Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) criticized the Senate on Tuesday for negotiating a $484 billion CCP virus relief package while the majority of Senate lawmakers remained in their home districts.
Both Republicans voiced profound concerns about approving the provisions in the phase 3.5 relief bill without a recorded vote. While neither Lee nor Paul blocked the bill, they did imply that they would not allow such a process with future legislation.
“Again, this is not acceptable. We should not be passing major legislation especially legislation nearly a half-trillion dollars in new spending without Congress actually being in session,” Lee said from the Senate floor. “Without members actually being here to debate, discuss, amend, and consider legislation and vote on it individually.”
“Even more alarming than the money is the idea that one senator can stand on the floor and pass legislation spending a half a trillion dollars and have no recorded vote and no debate,” added Paul, who said he came back to the chamber “so that history will record that not everyone gave in to the massive debt Congress is creating.”
The phase 3.5 relief legislation that passed Tuesday will provide billions to the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money last week, as well as to hospitals. The nearly half-trillion-dollar package comes shortly after Congress passed a $2 trillion rescue package to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic.
“The upcoming challenges are far too numerous, and onerous and complex to leave up to, just a few staff meetings behind closed doors,” Lee said.
While Lee disapproved of the process used to negotiate and pass the current relief bill, Paul’s criticism aimed more at the government’s indiscriminate payments to individuals and families, and the increase in national debt.
“If we were going to make discreet payments, direct payments, the criteria should have been sending checks to people who needed it: people who lost their jobs, people furloughed, people who had wage cuts,” said Paul. “Instead of directing help to the unemployed, though, some of these bailout checks will go to people, couples who earn nearly $200,000 a year.”
Senators Call for Lawmakers to Return to Capitol Hill
Lee praised essential workers and citizens for their hard work during the pandemic, but said that Congress needs to do more to earn its paycheck.
“Only returning to work, and indeed actually working will give the American people the government they deserve. The American people need to know who is helping them and who simply playing politics. We can’t allow them to know that if we’re not in session,” Lee continued.
Senator Paul echoed Lee’s call to get lawmakers back to Capitol Hill as soon as possible and quarantines lifted.
“No amount of bailout dollars will stimulate an economy that is being strangled by quarantine,” Paul said. “It is not a lack of money that plagues us but a lack of commerce.”
The Kentucky Senator called for reopening the economy as soon as safely possible, which he said will require moving beyond one-size-fits-all policies. He also offered encouraging statistics about the lethality of the virus.
“The number of people who have already developed antibodies to the coronavirus is 25 to 50 times higher than the number that has been reported as infected. This is great news. This study means that the mortality rate may well be 25 to 50 times less deadly than previously thought.”
The Trump Administration issued national guidelines for reopening the economy on April 16, but each state has the discretion to follow the timeline as they see fit.
Senate and House members are slated to return to Capitol Hill on May 4, but Republican senators speaking from the Senate Chamber Tuesday urged Senate leaders to consider returning sooner.
“Unlike millions of our constituents, Members of Congress are still receiving paychecks. It’s time for us to earn them. It’s time to do our job. It’s time to return to Washington, and get to work,” Lee said. “We can choose to legislate, in which case we have to convene, or we can stay in recess and not legislate. Those really are the only two options.”