Durbin: When Will Senator McConnell Feel 'Urgency' To Act On COVID-19 Legislation?

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today called out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for failing to act on any COVID-19 related legislative matter on the Senate floor for the past three weeks.  On Friday, the House of Representatives passed the Heroes Act, which increases aid for our health care system and state and local governments, extends unemployment insurance benefits, helps keep laid-off workers on their employer health plans, provides additional direct payments, and extends hazard pay to essential workers.  Durbin called out Senator McConnell for calling the House-passed Heroes Act “dead on arrival,” and noted that Senate Republicans’ “lack of urgency” is ignoring the public health and economic crisis that the country currently faces.

“Three weeks have ended here on the floor of the United States Senate, and but for a few speeches on this floor, if you read the record of legislative activity, you’d wonder if the leaders in the United States Senate even realize we’re facing a pandemic.  We spend our time on nomination after nomination.  We spend our time in hearings on friends and those who pass political muster who want lifetime appointments to the federal court.  But somehow, we’ve managed to miss the biggest story in America: the pandemic,” Durbin said.  “I’d say to Senator McConnell and the Republican leadership, we have wasted an opportunity, a three-week opportunity to move forward, and we have particularly wasted this week when we could have taken up the measure that passed the House of Representatives last week.”

Durbin continued, “Is it urgent that we take up this matter [the Heroes Act]?  Of course it is.  And yet, this week we’ve done nothing, zero, when it comes to this measure.  We’re going to leave now for the Memorial Day week, which means it will be about two weeks before we return.  I can just about guarantee that the sense of urgency across America will be palpable at that time.  The question is whether there will be a sense of urgency felt by the Republican leader from the State of Kentucky.”

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

The Heroes Act includes $100 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services Health Provider Relief Fund for hospitals and other providers, adding to the $175 billion already appropriated.   The bill also includes $7.6 billion in dedicated funding for Community Health Centers, and $75 billion for a new coronavirus testing and contact tracing initiative.  And the legislation allows laid-off workers to remain on their employer-sponsored health plans for at least nine months, at no cost, through the COBRA program.

The bill authorizes a second round of Economic Impact Payments (EIP), while expanding eligibility and strengthening protections from garnishment.  Taxpayers with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers would be eligible to receive EIPs, making mixed-status families eligible to receive relief.  This bill would also lift the age cap on qualifying dependents and extends the weekly $600 federal unemployment payments through January 2021.

The bill authorizes $875 billion in fiscal relief funding for states and localities with increased flexibility for the use of these funds to replace lost revenues.  The bill also establishes a $200 billion Heroes’ fund to ensure that essential workers receive hazard pay.

The bill requires OSHA to issue a strong, enforceable standard within seven days to require all workplaces to develop and implement infection control plans based on CDC expertise, and prevents employers from retaliating against workers who report infection control problems.