At a time of immense gridlock in Congress and the White House, it unfortunately is not surprising to see lawmakers accuse each other of partisanship as they try to quickly assemble a package of legislation to address the coronavirus pandemic.
So far, Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley have publicly stayed above the fray, leaving the political mudslinging to their colleagues.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander took the first swipe Wednesday when he prevented Democrats from bypassing a Republican-controlled health care committee in order to get their paid sick leave bill to the Senate floor.
According to the Huffington Post, Alexander said paid sick leave was a “good idea,” but the federal government should cover the cost to employers if it was to approve the policy.
“Employees are struggling, our employers are struggling, and it’s not a cure for the coronavirus to put a big new expensive federal mandate on employers who are struggling in the middle of this matter,” Alexander said, according to the Huffington Post.
Introduced by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the legislation requires employers to grant employees 14 paid sick days they could use in the event of a public health emergency. Federal law currently does not guarantee paid sick leave for all Americans.
House Democrats’ coronavirus response bill also includes paid sick leave, in addition to free coronavirus testing and expanded food security programs.
This coronavirus outbreak is a public health emergency, & I'm supporting the #FamiliesFirst Coronavirus Response Act to provide public health solutions like:
⚕️ ensuring cost-free testing for #COVID19
👪 providing paid sick leave
👩⚕️ protecting our local public health workers pic.twitter.com/i2rOi8TgWe
— Rep. Cindy Axne (@RepCindyAxne) March 12, 2020
At a town hall meeting in Jefferson last weekend, a constituent asked Ernst her thoughts on federally mandated paid sick leave “in lieu of all the stuff that’s going on now with corona[virus] and the flu … ”
At the time, Ernst said she was unfamiliar with Democrats’ efforts to pass paid sick leave legislation.
“If it’s private industry, I think private industry can decide what is best for their employees,” Ernst said. “I am a proponent of paid family leave, but that’s when you’re having a baby, adopting a new child. I don’t dive into mandating sick leave. I don’t know that that would be appropriate for the federal government to tell a small business owner you’re going to go bankrupt by forcing them to pay sick leave if it’s not part of their policy.
“I think the less government intervention we have and wise decisions made by business owners is a better way to go,” she concluded.
The woman who asked the question said her employer did not provide paid sick leave, a burden affecting about 500,000 Iowans.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he opposed House Democrats’ coronavirus relief package, calling it “an ideological wish list that was not closely tailored to the circumstances.”
Sen McConnell not interested in emerging House pandemic bill, calling it "an ideological wish list that was not closely tailored to the circumstances."
— carl hulse (@hillhulse) March 12, 2020
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy called it “completely partisan” and “unworkable.”
The legislation that Speaker Pelosi introduced at 11pm last night—written by her staff and her staff alone—and plans to vote on just 12 hours later is not only completely partisan. It is unworkable.
I’ll explain why at my press conference at 10am ET: https://t.co/Pk4jPUtJIS
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) March 12, 2020
In a tweet today, the deputy chief of staff to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said “minority staffs of committees of jurisdiction were given language yesterday afternoon,” contradicting McCarthy’s claim that Republicans were shut out of the bill.
Minority staffs of committees of jurisdiction were given language yesterday afternoon. Democrats included requested changes from Republican staffs of W&M, Energy & Comm, Ed&Labor and Agriculture. This statement is not true: https://t.co/cLlwVJKHa2
— Drew Hammill (@Drew_Hammill) March 12, 2020
The Senate was scheduled to recess today and head home for a district work period. Instead, McConnell announced Thursday afternoon the Senate would remain in session next week to “pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong.”
It was the right decision by Ldr McConnell to cancel recess next wk. I had 11 Q&As scheduled as part of my annual #99countymeetings but helping Americans & public health/the economy is the most impt work Congress can do right now. Lots of work 2 be done
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) March 12, 2020
President Donald Trump already signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending package into law last week to fund vaccine research and development, purchase additional medical supplies and move more resources toward public health disaster preparedness and prevention.
By Elizabeth Meyer