Democrats Use Coronavirus Crisis to Push Their Political Agenda

By Susan Jones | March 18, 2020 | 7:26am EDT
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

( - Both Democrats and Republicans agree that Congress must act quickly to help American citizens and businesses cope with and recover from the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

Up first, a $750-billion House-passed bill that the Senate will pass shortly, to "reassure the people around the country that we can operate on a bicameral, bipartisan basis quickly," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday.

But there are looming disagreements about the next bill, a stimulus bill that is expected to approach a trillion dollars:

"[T]he first step is for Republicans to largely agree on what we think is the best way to address this emergency. And second, we will consult with our Democratic colleagues and see what we can agree to. That's the way we'll go forward here in the Senate," McConnell said. "And we'll stay here until we do reach a bipartisan agreement and achieve at least 60 votes to pass it," McConnell added.

But there is disagreement about what the relief package should include.

Sen. McConnell told reporters on Tuesday the goal is to deal with the emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic: "And anything that doesn't address that pandemic, it seems to me, should not be considered."

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the stimulus bill "should be very robust -- very robust. And be able to be repeated time after time if it doesn't work at the beginning."

Schumer said it's okay to help corporations, but "whatever help we give them, workers come first. The vast majority of aid should go to the workers," not to increasing executives' salaries or buying back stock.

Schumer also inserted Democrats' longtime demands for employee representation on corporate boards and a $15 minimum wage:

We're also thinking that there should be, if they're going to get help, maybe their employees should get on the boards of these companies. Last time, the government took stock when they gave money to the banks. Well, maybe that stock should go to the employees so they have some representation in these industries.

We also want to...we want them to pay a $15 minimum wage and we want to make sure that they -- strict requirements, they keep workers and their jobs and not cut their benefits. The aid has to be workers first if we're going to help these industries. Not what happened in 2008 where the big boys got helped and the workers and everybody else was left by the wayside.

So our plan has working people, average middle-class families, first. It puts the health of the country first, and then we will move on to other things.

Help the drug abusers

Speaking at the same news conference, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the stimulus package must "address healthcare above the neck as well as below the neck."

"And what do I mean by that?" she asked. "Well, in addition to our hospitals and our community health centers that are frontline on addressing medical issues, we also know that expanding community behavioral health centers is critical so we're not leaving the mentally ill and people with addiction behind.

"Medical experts are stressing the people who misuse opioids are at high risk of the coronavirus because opioids impact their respiratory and pulmonary health issues and they are particularly affected and vulnerable to the coronavirus. So I'm very proud that our package includes addressing that."

Stabenow added that "this is not the time for broad-based tax cuts that mainly help people who least are the crisis. This is the time to help those who are having the toughest time and will have the toughest time surviving this crisis."

Then Stabenow took a swipe at President Trump: "While the president continues to focus on people who are in the stock market, we are focused on people who need to be able to get to the supermarket, and we hope our Republican colleagues will join us."

President Trump made it clear on Tuesday that he is indeed focused on Americans' health and welfare.

"We are looking to save the maximum number of lives," Trump said. "Everything else is going to come back. A life is never going to come back, but everything else--our economy is going to come roaring back."

Trump also mentioned people who work for tips:

"You have people that work on's a large number of people. It's a tremendous--who would think this, right? And they do nicely. They work very hard, but they work on tips. We have to take care of our people. We don't want to have people suffering during this period. It wasn't their fault that this thing all of a sudden was upon us."


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