U.S. Sen. Mike Braun said Monday that Congress must be ready to “reposition on everything” as it responds to the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal lawmakers in coming weeks should focus most on helping health care providers treating the outbreak, Braun added.
Washington's role is “to put the real tools out there financially, and it's to tell the American public to restore confidence,” Braun, R-Ind., said in a telephone interview from his office on Capitol Hill.
But the Republican-controlled Senate later Monday failed for the second straight day to advance a $1.8 trillion economic rescue package. Democrats blocked the legislation both times, arguing it gives preference to large companies.
“We have bailouts and handouts for corporations – but workers are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to take personal responsibility. The American people will not stand for it,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement after the latest vote.
During a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of “absolutely mindless obstructionism ... while people are losing their jobs, losing their income” during commerce shutdowns caused by the potentially fatal respiratory virus.
The legislation would provide $500 billion in loans for businesses – including $58 billion for passenger and cargo airlines, expand unemployment benefits and send $250 billion in cash payments to people earning less than $100,000 a year.
Braun and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., supported the package on both procedural votes. But neither tally came close to the three-fifths majority required in the 100-member Senate to advance to a final vote the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act.
“The longer it takes us to come together, the more damage that's going to be done. This is an emergency,” Young said in an emotional floor speech broadcast by C-SPAN.
“This is bad. The Senate needs to act,” he said.
Democrats have described the proposed bailout for companies as a “slush fund” and demanded more restrictions on the money, plus greater job protections for workers. Among sticking points is that the legislation would allow the U.S. Treasury to keep secret for six months the identities of businesses receiving financial assistance.
“I don't like that,” Braun said about the confidentiality provision. “I'm a believer in full transparency on everything. ... I see no point in that.” He repeated his opposition later during a floor speech in which he also said he could go along with Democrats' requests to prevent worker layoffs and stock buybacks by companies receiving assistance.
But Young complained that Democrats are also insisting on amendments for regulating airplane emissions, granting permanent paid leave to workers and easing voting access in elections.
“Let's not allow this legislation to be hijacked,” Young said in his floor speech. “Let's live up to the high standards of the American people. At this difficult moment, let's come together like we did in 9/11, like our country has so consistently when the chips are really down.”
The relief package is the third wave of federal legislation for battling the spread of COVID-19. Congress approved spending more than $100 billion on earlier aid.
Braun, a fiscal conservative who owns auto parts distribution companies, stressed to The Journal Gazette that Congress must be ready to do more to stem the pandemic and its economic fallout.
“I'm prepared to look to see if we need to strategically and tactically reposition on everything we've learned from other countries, still keeping in mind that until we get the disease curve broken, I don't think we're going to allay the national fear and anxiety,” said the second-year senator from Jasper.
Braun said federal intervention is a “race between flattening the disease curve without flattening the economy. And here in 15 days, I think we need to reassess, possibly put a little more effort on protecting health care workers” and the “most susceptible” populations, including older people and those in nursing care.
“We need to make sure hospitals are treated in that high category of building an almost iron dome of protection around them,” he said.
Recent restrictions on travel and public gatherings have “made sense. All of us can make it through a couple of weeks,” Braun said about attempts to slow transmission of the new virus.
“Several businesses, though, that were at the leading edge of this – bars, hotels, restaurants – they have been taking the brunt of it. ... Those are the businesses I'm worried about,” he said.
Braun's recommendation going forward: “Just take a step back, make adjustments like you do in any crisis and make sure we're doing the right thing for that right point in time.”