Congressmen from Problem Solvers Caucus discuss COVID relief package

Published: Dec. 18, 2020 at 5:21 PM CST
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WASHINGTON (Dakota News Now) - Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are expressing optimism for a roughly $900 billion COVID relief plan. President-Elect Joe Biden has endorsed this plan but referred to it as a ‘down payment’ for immediate relief. Congressmen Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Dean Phillips (D-MN) discussed the framework of this plan and how they have worked across the aisle to get it done.

- What is your first impression of the COVID relief package?

Rep. Phillips: “This is very much an emergency COVID relief measure. Representative Johnson and I initiated a small working group in our Problem Solvers Caucus back in the summer, recognizing that in the absence of leaders on both sides of the aisle to come up with a suitable plan to help those in need in our country. We had to do something, we came up with something called the ‘March to Common Ground’ which was a much larger measure than the one we’re currently considering, but it included many of the same categories. The measure that we hope to vote on as soon as later tonight is a $900 billion or so plan designed to help get our country through the next few months. It’s an emergency measure to help those in the greatest need -- schools, families, the unemployed, our small businesses that are struggling, to help food insecurity, renters assistance, and the agriculture sector amongst others. It’s designed to get us through the next number of months and then we will do what we’re supposed to in Congress, which is assess the circumstances of our country and its wonderful citizens and then proactively go from there.”

Rep. Johnson: “What so many Americans are frustrated by it seems like Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi has such an oversized role on how our country tackles problems; and, that means that when those two people get hung up with petty squabbling or with trying to get the right negotiation posture, things don’t move as quickly as they shouldn’t Washington. What’s remarkable about the COVID-19 package was that it wasn’t cooked up by Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, it was ranking and file members people like Dean Phillips from Minnesota and dusty Johnson from South Dakota, who gathered together with like-minded senators and members of the U.S. House, to try to find some common ground on a package that our country needs. We want to keep our school children in school and safe. We want to make sure that those businesses who have been most impacted by the pandemic restaurants, hotels, that they have an opportunity to continue to pay their workers during these difficult times. We want to continue to make investments in testing and vaccine deployment. This victory is going to come about, not just because of the famous political names that we all know, but also because of a small group of dedicated bipartisan thinkers and doers, who are willing to advance this caucus.”

-Will this legislation pass this weekend?

Rep. Johnson: “It would be an embarrassment if Congress left town. Before, we’ve passed COVID-19 relief. This is some. This is not some massive sprawling $3 trillion package. This is the targeted and focused relief that a broad cross-section of thinkers in D.C., know that we need. The fact that it has taken this long to get it done should not be a source of pride for any of us, and we should not leave town until we do our job.”

Rep. Phillips: “This is something that should have been done many months ago. That’s why we’ve been working on this for that long, and many know that the day after Christmas 12 million Americans who are out of work are at risk of losing their unemployment benefits, and we have small businesses at the precipice. Thousands of which have already closed. They can’t wait any longer; so, to my friend and colleague’s point, we will not leave, nor should we leave until a bill is gone and we’re hopeful that it could be coming as soon as later today,

-Are you frustrated at how long it has taken to reach this point?

Rep. Phillips: “Yes. I rarely utter a one-word answer as strongly as that when the answer Sam is yes, terribly frustrated. I speak for many of us in our Problem Solvers Caucus we ran for these positions because we recognize both the need to do better and the opportunity to do better and that requires collaboration. We come into a system in which Democrats and Republicans are instantly separated, not encouraged to get to know each other not encouraged to cooperate. These are kindergarten lessons that we all learned, no matter where we came from about trust, decency, listening, and celebrating differences. That’s what we intend to do and I will say I know that Dusty and I are both hopeful. Moving forward we can use the work that we just did on this bill with our colleagues in the Senate as a template for doing better in the next Congress because there is no other alternative we have got to do better and it starts with respect and cooperation.”

Rep. Johnson: “We are in the era of divided government and whether we like it or not, the American people have put the Democrats in charge of the house, and it seems likely that they put the Republicans in charge of the Senate again. In that kind of environment, nothing literally nothing compared with the votes of just one party. That means that it’s going to be important for the foreseeable future for us to focus more on working together to solve the problems of this country than to fight with one another. Fighting and screaming bumper sticker slogans at one another across the partisan divide doesn’t actually improve the lives of anyone.”

-Are there aspects of this new package that you are particularly enthusiastic about?

Rep. Johnson: “Most Americans are not looking for a handout what they want is an opportunity to continue to make a living and that’s why the paycheck Protection Program is so critically important. 40 million Americans have their jobs protected by the first round of the PPP. Now this round will be more narrowly focused only on those businesses that have been most impacted by the pandemic. Now clearly there are millions of Americans who’ve lost their jobs, which is why unemployment insurance is critically important. For those people, there are some, for whom neither unemployment insurance, nor disability, nor a job is going to meet their economic strain right now. That’s why there is some rental assistance and some nutrition assistance, and some childcare assistance or those people who would otherwise slip through the cracks.”

Rep. Phillips: “I will also say to schools that are struggling to parents who have children at home learning remotely, we’ve allocated resources for the expansion of broadband to support our schools all around the country. Perhaps most importantly, testing in vaccine distribution. We are well behind other developed nations in the world. I’m a Democrat who salutes the Trump Administration for its investment and operation warp speed. The fact that we have vaccines, literally being deployed in America right now is nothing short of a miracle. I want to give credit where credit’s due but now we have to allocate resources to ensure that Americans can receive that vaccine without a financial hit, and we can do so if we get this bill together that’s why there’s so much of this that is designed to help every single American no matter your circumstance. That’s why I’m so thrilled and grateful to have worked with Congressman Johnson to this extraordinary bipartisan inclusion.”

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