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Democrats Outline Federal Police Legislation

In the wake of demonstrations nationwide concerning police conduct, Congressional Democrats this week unveiled legislation that would impose sweeping new changes on the way law enforcement is conducted.

 

Among the things this bill would do are:

  • Banning the use of police chokeholds
  • Removing immunity from lawsuits for police officers
  • Requiring the use of body cameras
  • Prohibiting the use of military-style weapons and equipment in police work
  • Establishing a national database for officers who have a record of abuse complaints

 

The backers of these proposals say they are necessary reforms to end rampant abuses by law enforcement. They argue that the death of George Floyd is only the latest example of police misconduct, and it is long overdue for the federal government to step in and curb abusive police activity.

 

Congressional Republicans are skeptical of the need for federal restrictions on local police. They point out that this would be a large federal takeover of state and local authority. They also note that in the wake of riots and other disturbances, many Americans are welcoming police presence to protect lives and property.

 

In some cities, activists and politicians are demanding that police department budgets be cut or that some troubled departments be disbanded. While this legislation would not accomplish either of those goals, it would impose new federal restrictions on how police operate.

 

House Speaker has said she would like to vote on this legislation by the end of the month. It is unlikely that the Senate will consider that chamber’s version of the legislation.

 

Do you support a federal ban on police chokeholds? Should all police officers be required to wear body cameras? Should there be a federal ban on police using surplus military equipment?

Deep Dive: Proxy Voting

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans go about their daily lives and work. Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are also affected, and have continued to meet periodically even with stay-at-home orders executed by the Washington, D.C. municipal government.

 

In addition to enforcing social distancing in the legislative chambers and limiting the number of people in the capitol building, the House also changed how its members vote. For the first time, representatives will be able to cast votes by proxy during certain times. This Deep Dive examines how this will work and why it is controversial.

 

What is Proxy Voting?

 

Proxy voting is used when an individual lawmaker cannot be physically present to cast a vote on the floor, so he or she gives permission to another member to cast a vote on his or her behalf. The process involves giving some form of signed slip to the proxy.

 

Traditionally (and, according to some experts, legally), members of the House and Senate must be present in their respective legislative chambers to cast a vote. However, the Senate allows the use of proxy voting in committee. The House of Representatives allowed proxy voting in committee until 1995, when then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich brought about rule changes that halted the practice.

 

Recent Proxy Voting Rules Change

 

On May 15, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 965 by a vote of 217-189. This resolution allows the following:

 

  • A House member to designate a proxy to vote on his or her behalf
  • When " a public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus is in effect," the House Speaker can designate a period when proxy voting can occur
  • This proxy voting period can last up to 45 days, with 45-day extensions allowed.
  • House committees can meet remotely during such periods in some instances, but may not hold executive sessions closed to the public.
  • The House shall study the feasibility and legality of remote voting

 

How Proxy Voting Works

 

A House member who wishes to vote by proxy must first find another member who will be physically present in the chamber and agrees to vote on that member's behalf. The member looking to vote by proxy must then notify the House clerk by letter. The clerk must receive a hard copy of the letter signed by the member personally. To revoke or alter the designation of a proxy vote, the member can send another letter to the clerk.

 

The member must then send written instructions to his or her proxy prior to each vote. The holder of the proxy cannot vote on another member's behalf unless he or she has such written instructions.

 

When a vote occurs, the member holding the proxy must obtain recognition from the Speaker of the House and announce, "As the Member designated by [NAME] pursuant to House Resolution 965, I inform the House that [NAME] will vote yea/nay/present.” The proxy holder will then take a card, vote, and designate that vote "by proxy." In the Congressional Record, the proxy votes will be noted separately from other votes.

 

Once a member revokes his or her proxy voting designation, the designee can no longer cast votes on that member's behalf. That designation is also automatically revoked if the member who requested the designation votes in person on the House floor.

 

Controversy and Lawsuit

 

On May 27, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) cast a proxy vote for Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). It was the first time such a vote was cast in the House. In total, 72 Democratic House members used this process to cast votes through 42 proxies that were present in the House chamber.

 

Prior to the vote, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, alleging that proxy voting was unconstitutional. He was joined by dozens of House Republicans. The suit hinges on the use of words like "assemble" and "meet" in the Constitution when there are references to Congress. These House members contend that the writers of the Constitution envisioned members of Congress physically meeting and casting votes while being present in these meetings. The lawsuit notes that proxy voting in unprecedented during floor votes in either chamber.

 

Those supporting proxy voting argue that the House rules prohibited such voting in the past, not the Constitution. With the passage of HR 965, this changed House rules and now members can legally cast proxy votes. They point out that the Constitution does not say anywhere it in that members must be physically present to vote. They go further and note that Article I, Section V, says, " Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings."

 

House Speaker Pelosi argues that proxy voting is a good way to allow Congress to function in the midst of a pandemic. Those opposing proxy voting counter that this is a way to give House leadership more control and dilute the voting power of individual House members. Some opponents of proxy voting also argue that the legality of legislation passed by such votes could be questioned.

 

What This Means for You

 

Concerns about the safety of members of Congress during the coronavirus pandemic led to cancelled legislative sessions and delays in votes. Proxy voting will allow the House of Representatives to function with fewer members present during the current pandemic and future pandemics. While this reduces these members’ need to travel and helps facilitate congressional sessions, there are also concerns about the legality of proxy voting, and the prospect that it could erode the power of individual members of Congress.

 

House Doesn’t Approve Detailed Reporting of Coronavirus Aid Recipients

The forgiveable loan program for businesses harmed by the coronavirus epidemic proved so popular that Congress had to pass two bills to fund it. But this week the House failed to pass legislation that would require the federal government to give a detailed report about who received such money.

 

By a vote of 269-147, the House did not meet the necessary two-thirds threshold to suspend the rules and pass H.R. 6782. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the legislation:

 

To require the Small Business Administration to report the name of each business that received coronavirus aid, an explanation of why that business received aid, the number of employees of each business, the lender who made facilitated the aid, and the amount of money given to small businesses owned by "socially and economically disadvantaged individuals" as well as women and veterans.

 

The Paycheck Protection Act provided forgiveable loans to businesses who shut down or saw business drop because of the coronavirus epidemic. They needed to meet certain criteria, however, such as re-hiring employees by June. The program proved so popular that the initial allocation of money soon ran out and Congress had to pass another bill to provide more funding.

 

Those who opposed H.R. 6782 said they were not against transparency, but they did not think the program should be used as a way to promote an agenda that favored certain business owners over others. The supporters argued that it is important to disclose how the federal government is spending money, especially if certain communities were being underserved.

 

This bill was not rejected by the House membership; the bill merely failed to get enough votes to pass through an expedited process. House leadership could still bring it back to the floor and pass it by majority vote.


Do you think that the federal government should release data on the businesses that received coronavirus aid? Should that information include data on how many businesses run by “social and economically disadvantaged individuals” received money?

FISA Renewal Stalls in the House

The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote this week on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. After President Trump said he would veto the bill if passed, House leadership quickly pulled the bill without indicating when it would be brought up again.

 

The bill the House was scheduled to vote on was HB 6172, which VoteSpotter as:

 

To renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that permit the federal government to collect business records and other information during national security investigations without a warrant. The FISA law allows a federal judge to approve such collections without notifying the target or hearing opposing arguments. The bill would also to expand the circumstances that require FISA judges to hear from a government-appointed critic of such requests, and increasing the number of FISA courts.

 

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 80-16 on May 14. The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 278-136 in March, but had to vote on it again since the Senate amended it.

 

President Trump has long been a critic of the FISA process, which he contends was used illegally to monitor his 2016 campaign. FISA also has critics on both the left and the right for perceived infringements on civil liberties. However, there is bipartisan support for the bill among members of Congress who think it is vital to protect national security.

 

During the reauthorization process, there was a question about whether President Trump would support the bill. This week, he cleared up any confusion by saying he would veto it. This led House Republican leadership, which had backed the bill, to reverse themselves and say they were pressing their members to oppose it. Speaker Pelosi pulled the bill because it was uncertain if it would pass.

 

It remains unclear when the House will consider this legislation again, and if Congress and the president can agree on a version that will be signed into law.

 

How do you think the FISA process should be reformed?

Some Fear Unemployment Benefits Keep People from Returning to Work

With millions of Americans losing work as a result of the coronavirus epidemic, some elected officials and experts are worried that expanded unemployment benefits are making the jobless problem worse.

 

As part of the coronavirus aid package, the federal government has increased unemployment benefits by $600 a month. This has led to a situation where some workers make more money with these benefits than they do at their jobs. As Congress considers whether to extend this higher payment, some are worried that doing so will hamper an economic recovery. After all, these critics of the program say, why would someone return to work if he or she can make more money being unemployed?

 

It is unclear how many people are deciding not to return to work as a result of the higher unemployment benefits. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin this week reminded people that they could lose their benefits if they refuse to go back to work if their company can re-hire them.

 

The increased unemployment benefits end this summer. Some Democrats in Congress want to extend this program through next year. Republicans argue that the government should not make it more attractive to remain without work than it is to go to work. They say that this will slow down an economic recovery and hurt business owners who need workers to return. Democrats counter that this program is desperately needed by people who are jobless through no fault of their own.


Democrats are pushing for quick passage of a new coronavirus aid bill that could include these extension of enhanced unemployment benefits. Republicans want a slower process.

 

Do you think that paying an extra $600 in unemployment benefits per week gives people an incentive not to return to work?

Progressives Push for Military Cuts to Pay for Coronavirus Aid

Members of the House Progressive Caucus want to cut military spending as a way to pay the big price tag for coronavirus aid.

 

The House Armed Services Committee is considering the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which provides authority for the nation’s military activities. This bill also sets the funding level for military spending, which is then funded through the appropriations process.

 

Last year, the Progressive Caucus wanted the act to authorize military spending at $644 billion a year. Instead, the House approved legislation that set the level at $738 billion. As the process begins this year, the caucus’s members have said they will not support legislation that does not contain a significant spending cut.

 

The members argue that with other needs taking priority, specifically the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, it is time for Congress to trim military spending. They say the nation cannot afford to keep spending billions of dollars on pricey weapons systems and other military projects that, in the views of these members of Congress, foster conflict around the globe.

 

This stance puts these Democratic House members at odds with their colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Many moderate Democrats do not support cutting military spending, and would likely oppose any efforts to concede to the Progressive Caucus’s demands. But without the votes of the more liberal House members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to rely on Republican votes to pass the defense bill this year.

 

Do you think that military spending should be cut to help pay for the trillions of dollars spent dealing with the coronavirus?

House Taking up $3 Trillion Coronavirus Bill

The House of Representatives is on the verge of passing its fifth bill related to the coronavirus epidemic. Unlike the previous legislation, however, this bill's approval is set to come along partisan lines.

 

House Democratic leadership introduced the bill earlier this week. Republicans charged that they had little time to look over the details and pointed out they had no input in its writing. Among other things, the bill includes:

  • Nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments
  • $200 billion to provide hazard pay for front-line workers
  • Another round of direct payments to households
  • $175 billion in housing aid$75 billion for more testing

 

Democrats say these things are necessary to provide aid to an economy that is suffering in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. They argue that many states and local governments will face difficult choices to cut key services without federal aid. Republicans, however, say the bill is too expensive. They also note that it contains spending on items that have little to do with the current health crisis, such as tens of millions of dollars to the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Republicans also fault Democrats for putting provisions in the bill that would benefit organized labor.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he has no interest in bringing this bill up for consideration in the Senate. There will likely be another coronavirus aid bill, but for any bill to move through Congress and be signed by President Trump, it must be bipartisan.

 

Do you think the Senate should vote on the $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill?

Senate Falls 1 Vote Short of Curbing Government Internet Searches

This week, the Senate passed legislation that reauthorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) after votes on three amendments aimed at enhancing privacy protections. One amendment, which would prevent warrantless surveillance of Internet usage, failed by only one vote.

 

On May 13, the Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Steve Daines (R-MT). Here is how VoteSpotter described that amendment:

 

To amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to end the power for government agents to access internet browser and search history without a warrant during foreign intelligence and terrorism investigations.

 

This bill failed by only one vote. It had 59 senators who supported it, and it needed 60 to overcome procedural hurdles. Four senators were absent during the vote: Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

 

The FISA process has drawn scrutiny from both conservatives and liberals who are concerned about what they say is a lack of checks on government power to conduct investigations. They argue that without more safeguards, the FBI has vast powers to investigate anyone it deems connected to foreign intelligence or foreign terrorism.

 

Part of this investigative authority includes demanding that internet companies turn over information about a target’s internet browsing history and search terms. Since this information is held by a third party, not an individual directly, courts have ruled that the government can obtain them without a warrant in some circumstances. The Wyden-Daines amendment would have prohibited this.

 

President Trump has expressed his anger over the FISA process many times in the past due to it being used to investigate his 2016 campaign.

 

Do you think that, in the course of a terrorism investigation, the FBI should be able to access someone’s internet browsing history without a warrant?

Democrats Unveil Their Plan for More Coronavirus Aid

House Democratic leaders have introduced their version of the next phase of coronavirus relief. Its price tag is $3 trillion.

 

Among other things, this package contains:

  • Nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments
  • $200 billion to provide hazard pay for front-line workers
  • Another round of direct payments to households
  • $175 billion in housing aid
  • $75 billion for more testing

 

Under this bill, a family could receive up to $6,000 directly from the federal government. The weekly $600 increase in unemployment benefits would last through January.  

 

Unlike other coronavirus bills, this one was not put together with input from Republicans. It represents a Democratic vision of what aid should contain, and is unlikely to garner much Republican support. The House leadership says these measures are necessary to help people sustain themselves in wake of the economic problems caused by the coronavirus epidemic. Republicans counter that this is a liberal wish-list that is far too expensive.

 

There are likely enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass this legislation. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he is not interested in moving quickly on another coronavirus aid bill. In addition, any future aid bill in that chamber will have to have support from both Republicans and Democrats to pass.

 

The House is expected to vote on this bill Friday. If enacted, this would be the fifth bill to provide federal aid to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus.

 

Do you support the $3 trillion coronavirus aid bill put forward by House Democrats?

Senate Considers FISA Surveillance Reauthorization

This week, senators are taking up legislation to reauthorize and change some of the procedures for the  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.

 

The process for obtaining intelligence under FISA has been under scrutiny by allies of President Trump. The FBI used this process to obtain warrants to monitor members of the Trump campaign, and a recent report has illustrated numerous problems with that warrant.

 

HB 6172 reauthorizes the FISA court through 2023. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that permit the federal government to collect business records and other information during national security investigations without a warrant. The FISA law allows a federal judge to approve such collections without notifying the target or hearing opposing arguments. The bill would also to expand the circumstances that require FISA judges to hear from a government-appointed critic of such requests, and increasing the number of FISA courts.

 

The changes contained in this legislation do not go far enough for some senators, though. They argue that the process for the FISA courts tilts too heavily towards the government, and that abuses would still be too easy to commit. This bipartisan group plans on offering amendments that would limit the collection of Internet usage history as well as strengthen the role of outside experts to challenge requests for surveillance.

 

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 278-136 in March.

 

Do you think the federal government has too much power to conduct surveillance and collect information under the FISA process?

Senate Fails to Override Trump Veto on Iran Military Action

A majority of senators disapprove of U.S. military involvement in Iran, but they could not garner enough support to override a presidential veto of a resolution to end such action.

 

This week the Senate failed to override President Trump’s veto of Senate Joint Resolution 68. Although the vote was 49-44 in favor of a veto override, this type of vote requires two-thirds of the senators present to approve in order to pass.

 

The resolution states:

 

The United States Armed Forces have been introduced into hostilities, as defined by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.

 

The question of whether United States forces should be engaged in hostilities against Iran should be answered following a full briefing to Congress and the American public of the issues at stake, a public debate in Congress, and a congressional vote as contemplated by the Constitution.

 

It then goes on to say:

 

Congress hereby directs the President to terminate the use of United States Armed Forces for hostilities against the Islamic Republic of Iran or any part of its government or military, unless explicitly authorized by a declaration of war or specific authorization for use of military force against Iran.

 

The Senate initially passed the resolution in February, with the House following in March. This action was prompted by President Trump’s drone strike, which killed a top Iranian general. Many members of Congress have said this action will likely lead to war with Iran. They point out that the Constitution requires that Congress declare war. President Trump pushed back, saying that what he did was allowed because he is commander-in-chief. He said that the drone strike saved American lives and stopped an imminent threat.

 

The War Powers Act, invoked by this resolution, requires that presidents consult with Congress before military actions and seek congressional approval for longer-term military deployments. Enacted in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War, presidents have routinely claimed that the law is an unconstitutional violation of their powers as commander-in-chief.

 

President Trump vetoed SJ Res 68 on May 6.

 

Do you think that U.S. military actions against Iran should be ended?

Trump Still Pushing for Payroll Tax Cut

Congress has passed four bills dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, and is now working on a fifth. President Trump wants that bill to include a payroll tax cut.

 

This is not the first time that the president has suggested such a tax cut. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has been reluctant to enact it, however.

 

Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.

 

Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly.

 

The president’s support for such a tax cut is not shared by many in Congress. Democratic members argue that such a tax cut would not provide relief to those who lost jobs or who are in the gig economy. Republicans are worried about its price tag (which could reach as high as $1 trillion a year) and its effect on the Social Security Trust Fund.

 

It remains to be seen what type of tax relief, if any, members of Congress will support in their latest coronavirus relief bill.

 

Do you support cutting payroll taxes as a way to stimulate the economy?

Lawyers Argue that Trump’s Name on Stimulus Checks is Illegal

Stimulus checks going out to millions of Americans contain the name of President Donald Trump in the memo line. A bipartisan group of lawyers is arguing that this is a violation of federal law.

 

Congress passed legislation authorizing stimulus payments to tens of millions of Americans due to the economic effects of the coronavirus epidemic. Many of those payments were made by direct deposit. Some people, however, are receiving paper checks.

 

There were reports that President Trump wanted his signature to appear on the line authorizing the checks. Generally, the signature of the Secretary of the Treasury appears on government checks. Due to legal reasons, this idea could not be realized. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he had the idea to place the president’s name in the memo line of the check, something that has never been done before.

 

A group of lawyers who have worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations argues that this move was intended to boost the president’s re-election campaign. As such, they say, it violates a federal law that prohibits the use of federal employees and property for campaign purposes. They sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging him to appoint a special counsel to investigate this situation.

 

Legal observers note that no one has been prosecuted under the section of the federal code that these lawyers cite.

 

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has introduced legislation to prohibit the federal government from using the president or vice=president’s name or image in promotional material.

 

Do you think it was appropriate to put President Trump’s name on stimulus checks?

Democrats Want Federal Funding for Faster Internet

At a time when tens of millions of Americans are working from home or going to school from home, the Internet is proving critical to connecting people. Now some Democratic members of Congress want federal funding to boost high-speed Internet.

 

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Ed Markey (D-MA) have joined with Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) to advocate for a federal grant program for improved broadband access as part of the next coronavirus aid bill. They argue that this epidemic has shown the importance of high-speed Internet, and that some people are at a disadvantage because they don’t have this type of service.

 

Opponents of this idea say that Internet access is better left to the private sector, not the government. They argue that the government can distort the market and harm efforts to roll out broadband. They note the large increase in high-speed Internet access over the past decade that private businesses, not the government, accomplished.

 

There is ongoing discussion about what the next coronavirus aid bill should contain and when Congress should act on it. Democrats are pushing for a big aid package for state and local governments. Republicans are cool to this idea, but have not rejected it. This is the main sticking point in negotiations, and it is unclear when it will be resolved.

 

Do you think the federal government should take steps to improve high-speed Internet access?

McConnell Pushes to Limit the Coronavirus Liability of Business Owners

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants to take steps to limit what he says will be a “lawsuit pandemic” in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

 

With businesses set to begin reopening around the nation, some people fear that there will be lawsuits from customers if they contract coronavirus in these places. Many business owners cite their concern over these potential lawsuits as one of the reasons they are hesitant to resume operation.

 

Sen. McConnell has said he will insist that any future bill to provide more aid related to the coronavirus must also contain a limitation on the liability for business owners and health care workers. He argues that this is a key way to begin restarting the economy.

 

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for a new coronavirus bill that will provide aid to local and state governments. Sen. McConnell has been cool to this idea, noting that many of these governments were facing budget issues prior to the coronavirus. He has said that the federal government should not be bailing out states that spent irresponsibly. However, he has said he would be open to considering carefully-crafted aid if it also contains a liability limit.

 

The Senate will likely meet next week. The House was supposed to reconvene, too, but Majority Leader Steny Hoyer now says that members will not be returning to Washington in early May.

 

Do you support giving business owners and health care workers protection from lawsuits over the coronavirus?

House Passes Another Coronavirus Aid Bill

This week, Congress passed a fifth bill to fund federal response to the coronavirus epidemic. The House met in a nearly-full session on Thursday to debate and then overwhelmingly vote in favor of this $484 billion legislation.

 

This bill contains funding for a number of items, including:

  • $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses affected by the epidemic
  • $75 billion for hospital aid
  • $25 billion for coronavirus testing
  • $60 billion for disaster loans and grants

 

The most-anticipated portion of this bill dealt with the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money last week while Congress was in the midst of partisan disagreements over how to replenish it. Republicans were pushing for legislation that only contained $250 billion in new money for that program. Democrats wanted a larger bill that also gave money to hospitals as well as state and local governments.

 

While the Senate passed this bill by voice vote, the House of Representatives reconvened to vote on it. After some debate, the vote in favor was 388-5. One member, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), voted “present,” while 35 members were absent.

 

There is already talk about another coronavirus aid bill. Democrats are suggesting that such a bill have money in it for state and local governments which are having budget problems. Republicans are cool to that idea.

 

What do you think Congress should be doing to respond to the coronavirus epidemic?

McConnell Suggests Bankruptcy, Not Aid, for States

With some states facing budget problems, congressional Democrats are seeking billions of dollars in aid as part of the next coronavirus legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has another suggestion for states in budget trouble: bankruptcy.

 

Officials in some states say they are facing dire budget situations due to the coronavirus. They argue that the economic slowdown will reduce tax revenue and lead to an increased demand for government services. These officials say that they will be forced to fire public safety employees and stop vital government programs unless Congress provides them with money.

 

Sen. McConnell, however, contends that many states have a long history of irresponsible spending. He has said that he does not want coronavirus aid bills to rescue states from what he calls bad decisions of the past. He specifically points to generous pension programs that some states provide without putting away enough money to cover these obligations.

 

Congressional Democrats wanted the latest bill related to the coronavirus to contain billions of dollars in aid for state and local governments. Sen. McConnell prevented this from being included in the package. Instead, he says it may be a good idea for states to explore bankruptcy to restructure their long-term spending.

 

Should the federal government provide aid to states and local governments that are struggling with budget issues? Or should these governments look at declaring bankruptcy to restructure their spending?

New Coronavirus Aid Bill Passes Senate

This week the Senate passed a fifth bill to fund federal response to the coronavirus epidemic. This new legislation has a price tag of $484 billion, and some members of Congress want to begin work on a sixth aid bill.

 

The legislation contains funding for a number of items, including:

  • $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides forgivable loans to small businesses affected by the epidemic
  • $75 billion for hospital aid
  • $25 billion for coronavirus testing
  • $60 billion for disaster loans and grants

 

The Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money last week while Congress was in the midst of partisan disagreements over how to replenish it. Republicans were pushing for legislation that only contained $250 billion in new money for that program. Democrats wanted a larger bill that also gave money to hospitals as well as state and local governments.

 

The two sides finally settled on this compromise legislation, and the Senate passed it via a voice vote. This procedure does not require that members of the Senate return to the Capitol building for a vote.

 

The House of Representatives will now consider this bill, and is expected to pass it this week.

 

Do you support the new $484 billion coronavirus aid bill?

Small Business Fund Runs out of Money

 

The federal government’s program offering forgivable loans to small businesses affected by coronavirus ran out of money today. Senators are making little progress in resolving differences over legislation that would replenish this fund.

 

The third coronavirus relief bill contained $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). The PPP provided forgivable loans to small businesses as long as they kept paying employees and met other conditions. There was such a strong response to this program that the initial $350 billion soon proved inadequate. There were signs soon after its implementation that the program would run out of money in mid-April.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) attempted to pass legislation to provide another $250 billion. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) objected, meaning that the Democrats would filibuster the attempt. He desired more money for hospitals and state and local governments added to the small business aid. The two sides have been negotiating since last week in an attempt to overcome their differences.

 

The House of Representatives is likely to follow the lead of the Senate on this issue. Democrats in that body are also supporting the same aid demands as the Senate. However, if the Senate passes a small business aid bill without the additional funding, the House is unlikely to stop it.

 

There will likely be legislation to provide this small business aid next week. What is unclear at this time is whether it will contain any funding for Democratic priorities.

 

Do you think that legislation to provide funds for small business loans should also contain money for hospitals and state governments?

Senate to Consider Small Business Aid on Thursday

Senators today put off consideration until Thursday of new money for a federal aid fund for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. Partisan differences are standing in the way of quick consideration of a new infusion of federal cash.

 

The Senate met in a brief session today but conducted no business. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has set Thursday as the day the body will consider an additional $250 billion in funding for the small business loan program. Congress established these loans in the last coronavirus aid bill. This will provide forgivable loans for small businesses that continue to pay employees through June. If these businesses do this, they will not have to repay their loans.

 

Trump Administration officials warn that the initial $350 billion provided to this loan program will be depleted soon. Some say this could occur as soon as the end of the week.

 

Sen. McConnell is pushing for a fourth aid bill that would provide another $250 billion for this program and nothing else. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports this additional money, but also wants the bill to include funding for hospitals and state and local governments. Sen. McConnell has said these additional priorities should be discussed in a separate bill.

 

Neither side is backing down from its demands. With no easy path to enact this bill, Sen. McConnell said that the Senate will reconvene on Thursday to consider the bill. It remains to be seen if it can be passed if Democrats object.

 

Do you think the Senate should wait until Thursday to provide more funding for loans to small businesses affected by the coronavirus?

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