Just over a week ago, I voted in favor of $8.3 billion to support the efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. I would have liked to have been able to vote in favor of the next step of taking emergency stop gap measures to help the American people. Unfortunately, the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” and the process surrounding it represents everything that is broken in Washington.
After two days of closed-door negotiations between Speaker Pelosi and Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, Members of Congress were given less than 30 minutes to review the 110-page text before taking a vote after midnight. My office received the final text of the bill at 12:01am, and members were called to vote at 12:28am after hardly tenminutes debate was permitted. (Note: For this context “debate” means speeches by members who were pre-selected by leadership before bill text was available to members.)
The Constitution does not contemplate the Treasury of the Secretary playing a more important role in writing legislation than those elected to represent the people. On such a crucial vote, more authority was delegated to the executive branch than the legislative body constitutionally mandated to debate and pass legislation. The people of our district did not send me to Washington to be a rubber stamp for bills drafted by Speaker Pelosi and the Secretary of the Treasury, and I could not in good conscience vote ‘yes’ on a bill that will spend untold billions without first reading the bill.
This type of rushed, behind-closed-door governance is completely backwards. As a deliberative body, we could have debated and amended the legislation over the course of the two days that we waited for Speaker Pelosi to negotiate the final text of the bill. The final product almost certainly would have been better and the questions surrounding the practical implications of the bill could have been answered.
Although some provisions were things I would support, others were harmful, including new burdens placed on small businesses while exempting large businesses. Companies like Amazon and McDonalds are not required to pay emergency leave to their hourly workers, but Main Street businesses are. Small businesses already strained by the economic challenges surrounding the response, would have to bear the additional burden. Practically, this means many small businesses could close within weeks and with them the provision for thousands of families across the nation.
Having passed a multi-billion emergency supplemental for coronavirus just last week, Congress had the time to debate this bill rather than rush to pass it at 12:30am on Saturday. Neither the financial markets nor the U.S. Senate was going to open again before Monday, so we could have easily evaluated this legislation over the weekend to ensure it was the best next step for our country.
The $8.3 billion we passed with my support last week will help federal, state, and local officials combat the threat. It will help continue to address the virus at home and abroad, including expediting vaccine development, purchasing essential equipment and supplies, and assisting state and local health departments. More than $4 billion of the total will go to make diagnostic tests more broadly available, to support treatments to ease the symptoms of those infected with the virus, and to invest in vaccine development and procure vaccines when they are available.
While I appreciate the desire to ensure that WIC, SNAP, school lunch, and unemployment programs receive flexibility to help those in need, there were too many questions left unanswered in the thirty minutes we had to review the bill. There might be good answers to how the paid leave provisions would impact small businesses and their employees, for example, but we never had the opportunity to review and ask them. And to that point, as we were walking off the House floor, work began immediately on a bill to fix the bill we had just voted on. At last word, that bill is 46 pages of fixes to a 110-page bill.
This bill was too important to rush through. I know President Trump is dedicated to tackling this pandemic head on. However, Congress should have done the serious and transparent work of legislating – not passing the bill before we find out what’s in it.
I went to Congress to ensure it would become accountable to the people again. We need to stop plowing irresponsible legislation like this through an already broken system.
Published in the Victoria Advocate on March 17, 2020