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Blunt Calls on Congress to Find Immediate Path Forward on COVID-19 Relief

“Let’s Give People the Help They Need, When They Need It”

August 12, 2020

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, spoke on the Senate floor to urge Congress to work together to reach a compromise on the next coronavirus relief bill. Blunt outlined areas of bipartisan agreement and underscored the urgency of acting quickly to speed relief to families and provide additional support for health-related response efforts.

Following are Excerpts of Blunt’s Remarks:

“Mr. President, I think the president of the United States has done the things he can do within his authority to try to address the issues before us. But the truth is, his authority just doesn’t go far enough.

“Now, I have frequently questioned the president’s view of how broad the presidential authority is. But in these actions he took in the last few days, I’ve looked at them carefully, I think he had the authority to do what he did but he'd probably be the first to admit that the authority he has doesn't solve the problem the way it needs to be solved.

“It's time that the Congress stepped up and did its job. You know, in this debate with the president, there's the Article I view of the government that there's a reason that the legislative branches, Article I, there's a reason it's our job to pass laws.

“There's a reason that the president's job is to execute those laws. Occasionally, the president has to act quicker on some emergency basis than the Congress and within the fairly narrow ability he has to act on this issue, he's tried his best to step up where the Congress has failed to step up.

“My good friend from Virginia just said, ‘well, the House bill’s $3 trillion and the Senate bill’s a trillion dollars. We should figure out how to compromise at $2 trillion.’

“Now, I believe in compromise. I think it's the essence of democracy. But compromise actually has to be based on some principle of the issue you're dealing with.

“You know, if the House bill had been $5 trillion, I guess the logic would be that we'd compromise it $3 trillion. If they'd have known that, their bill would have probably been $5 trillion. When the bill was passed, it was described by more than one reporter as a Democrat wish list or the ultimate campaign platform having everything in it.

“It was described by a whole lot more than one reporter, that about a third of their bill has nothing to do with COVID and another third of their bill is about the big question of what we can do to help state and local government. …

“I mean, we could have a debate about whether people who are in the legal marijuana trade should get access to banking or not, but I think you've got to work really hard to make that a COVID issue. We could have a debate about whether the federal government should require every state in the country to allow ballot harvesting or not. But I think that's very hard to make a COVID-19 issue. …

“But let's talk about the things we all need to know need to be in the first bill. Which in the House bill were about $1 trillion. Now how do you compromise with the House when you agree with them on a number so they change the number? Back to school, a critical part of what ought to be happening right now. And by the way, back to school money the schools get in December will not be nearly as helpful as back to school money that schools get in August. They need the money now.

“We need to see back to school, whether it's distance learning, which takes some assets and planning that districts need to do more on or in-person learning where that's possible, where you have to have more expenses for probably more bus routes so you don't put as many people on the same bus. More expenses for delayed starting times, more expenses for social distancing and classrooms. But they need that money now. So the House in their bill for elementary and secondary and higher education, the HEROES Act, put $100 billion.

“We looked at that carefully. I chair the committee that does that appropriating. We, I think, know as much in our committee as anybody in the Senate about some of the needs that are out there. We thought the number was $105 billion. As soon as our bill came out, the House decided, ‘no, we really need $400 billion.’ How do you meet somebody in the middle when they keep changing where the middle is? …

“[T]he House put in the HEROES Act $7.5 billion for child care. We put $15 billion for child care. And then the House decides well, no, we really need 40 or $50 billion for child care. Pretty hard to compromise in the middle, if the middle was somewhere between 15, I think hopefully our number would have prevailed, $15 [billion] and $7.5 [billion] and then suddenly the middle is somewhere between 50 and 15.

“Let's be serious here. Let's get this job done. Let's get kids back to school, let's get people back to work. Let's get people back to child care. Let's do what we can to restore the health care system that's been incredibly stressed during this. And let's quit acting like there's this vast disagreement when the disagreement is way more apparent than real. If you look at the third of the bill that dealt with COVID-19 that the House passed, we are very close.

“Testing, absolutely essential in my view to get kids back to school, to get people back to work, until we get well into the vaccine period of having the vaccine and getting that vaccine to people. Testing [is] going to continue to be critical.

“We have money for vaccines and vaccine distribution that I think exceeds the House bill money. …

“A second round of PPE, which again the senator from Virginia agreed that this is something we need to do. Health care provider assistance, we ask our health care providers to do the two hardest things you could possibly do at the same time. One was stop all of the income you can possibly stop, stop the so-called elective surgeries. …

“We need to come back now for the third time and provide money for providers and again, money now is much more valuable than money 90 days from now. Telemedicine, we finally have woken up to what the federal government should have been doing for a decade and embrace telemedicine as part of normal office visits that don't have to happen in the office, as part of behavioral health.

“And you know our bill says that the CMS that determines how Medicare money is spent can't go back on what they've allowed in the last few months ever. And on some of the things they've allowed, they can't go back for a significant period of time to see how this works.

“Broadband, we could deal with this. We're going to have telemedicine, tele-behavioral health, that kind of medicine as well as other kinds of health medicine. You need to have access to broadband.

“If kids who are learning remotely have the same kind of opportunity as other kids who are learning remotely, you need to have access to broadband. And you need it as soon as you can get it. Whether that’s assistance to get hooked up, which is a little easier than just access. And we’ve been working hard in this Senate and in our state legislature, in my state, to get the Missourians that don’t have access to high-speed broadband to get that access.

“So there are areas here that are the areas we need to be dealing with. Most of them, we really, you have to really work hard to pretend there's a disagreement. Sure you can decide that your education category was really only 25% of what you really needed. But, but I think our House friends know that's not right. And we know that's not right.

“This is probably not the last bill we’ll pass if it turns out, we're incorrect on our $100 billion or $105 billion, but $100 billion right now to schools getting, trying to get started is worth more than $200 billion will be in May. Let's give people the help they need when they need it.

“Let's quit arguing about whether the president has inadequate tools to do what everybody knows needs to be done because certainly that's true. That should be true. Under the Constitution, the Congress has to do its job. And compromise is more than some middle number between an outrageous number and a number that may turn out to be not quite big enough.

“Let's get serious. Let's get back to work. Let's do our job.

“Let's get back to school in the country, back to work in the country, back to child care in the country and do those things we need to do to restore both the health care system and, more importantly, the health of every American we can possibly help.”


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