Dec 14, 2020
Bipartisan Economic Relief Bill Proposal Press Conference Transcript December 14
A group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a covid relief package proposal on December 14. Read the transcript of the press conference briefing here.
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Senator Joe Manchin: (01:03)
First of all, let me thank everybody for coming. I appreciate it. First of all, I want everybody up here and say thank you to everybody that we have here and so many that have been involved in this process, oh boy, and most importantly to those staff, the staff members have done [inaudible 00:01:27] work. Let me give you a little bit of timetable of what we’ve all been working on, how this all came about. I think you’re pretty much aware of it, but basically this COVID emergency relief package started the day after the election, those of us calling back and forth and talking to each other, and basically to say something had to be done because there was nothing moving. We heard nothing. And then on the 17th, we had a dinner meeting. And there was a dinner and it was bipartisan from day one from our talks to our dinner. We had eight. There was four Ds and four Rs. And we committed ourselves and then grew the day after to where it just continues to grow.
Senator Joe Manchin: (02:18)
But it great in a bipartisan way. And that’s what really makes it pretty special. And it’s been almost two weeks since we basically broke out and, I think it was December. Let me see. What day? I’ve got to get that right. November [inaudible 00:02:36]. Two weeks, 14th. Yeah, today’s the 14th, but basically two weeks ago, we unveiled the framework and now we are here today.
Senator Joe Manchin: (02:46)
And I know there’s an awful lot of you that thought that can’t be done. You surely to goodness couldn’t everything agreed on and put into a bill. Well guess what? We did. There’s the bill. And to make matters even better, we have two because with every good negotiation, you want to make sure you’ve covered everything. And then we did that. So what we have before you is $908 billion, 748 in our emergency bills we have and they’re talking about basically our state and local liability.
Senator Joe Manchin: (03:19)
I want to talk about, first of all, this one, and this is the one we’re so concerned and both of them are very, very important to the American people. To everybody that’s watching, first of all, make sure that you understand, bipartisanship and compromise is alive and well in Washington. Contrary to what you’ve been hearing, we’ve proven that within one month period, taking something that had not been on the table. Talks were stalled completely and taken to fruition to have a bill presented that basically what it does, it takes care of those who are unemployed and an emergency, if you’re unemployed, that’s an emergency and you’re running out of your unemployment check, we have 16 weeks at $300 a week for that.
Senator Joe Manchin: (04:02)
Food assistance, we have nutrition assistance, food assistance even going in to our food banks because we have non-traditional, people who have probably never been in a food bank before that is needing food assistance now. We want to make sure that they have the opportunity. And we want to make sure that the we had shelter assistance, rent, eviction notices. Basically, we wanted to make sure that that was in this piece of legislation. Small business debt relief, PPP program, is in that and people will talk more extensively about that. Then we wanted to talk about student loan forbearance. So much pressure on our students right now, and that’s in here. And then it goes on and on and on, as you can see, almost 600 pages.
Senator Joe Manchin: (04:40)
So what we’ve been able to do is put a $748 billion bill. We have $908 billion package that we’re still… But the emergencies that we have and the assistance to the American people is something that we’re going to continue to fight for. $13 billion for food assistance, $ 13 billion, and we wanted to make sure that the needs of the people and the assistance that was needed. But again, I tell all of you. The bipartisan COVID-19 emergency relief bills are here. The run to a period of time of April 1, and I want people to know, there’s Rob, come on up, buddy. We want people to know that basically the extent.
Senator Joe Manchin: (05:30)
Everyone says why didn’t you do this or why didn’t you do that? We sure could have looked at everything that was going to expire at the end of this month. Now it’s up to the leadership to take it and make this happen in a timely basis. We have a lot of good people here that we want to speak and they have an awful lot to speak about because they were part of it. It wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them and I want to bring my counterpart and my friend, Susan Collins up. Susan.
Senator Susan Collins: (05:54)
Thanks, Joe. First of all, let me say that I think had a Christmas miracle occurred in Washington. We have worked night and day for over a month, literally on Thanksgiving Day with texts, conference calls and Zooms to put together an emergency COVID relief package. Each and every one of us has been committed to that goal. I want to thank my Democratic and Republican colleagues in the Senate for working so hard to bring us to this day. But I also want to thank our House counterparts, Josh Gottheimer and Tom Reed who lead the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House, worked with us every step of the way. So these bills are not only bipartisan products, they are bicameral as well. My hope is that our hard work will spur our leadership on both sides of the aisle in the Senate and in the House and in the administration, to take our products and use them as the basis for a COVID relief package that is urgently needed by our struggling families, our hard hit small businesses, our stressed out healthcare providers, our overwhelmed postal service, our challenged schools, and so many others.
Senator Susan Collins: (07:43)
These bills are comprehensive but they don’t cover everything that everyone would want. Many of the provisions go through to April 30th. Undoubtedly, depending on the course of this pandemic, we may have to do more, but surely we can come together and provide this relief before we break for the Christmas holiday. The American people deserve no less.
Senator Susan Collins: (08:16)
I’m particularly proud of the $300 billion package then Senator Jeanne Shaheen and I were the lead in putting together. It includes an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program which has saved millions of jobs in this country, including 250,000 jobs in the state of Maine alone. It is essential that we have another round of PPP for our hardest hit small businesses, which we define as those that have suffered a 30% decline in revenues in one quarter of this year compared to a quarter of last year. It’s essential that we keep these small businesses afloat so that they can continue paying their employees.
Senator Susan Collins: (09:15)
There are many other provisions that I know we will get into in the days ahead, but surely let’s not go home for Christmas without passing this much needed relief for the American people. With that, let me make just one other comment and that is I’m for both bills. Just want to go on record as being for being for both of these bills. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Senator Mark Warner who’s been one of the leaders of this effort. Mark.
Senator Mark Warner: (09:54)
Well, thank you Susan. Let me, first of all, to Joe and Susan. Joe has been relentless about keeping the eye on the ball, let’s keep this product moving forward. I hate to acknowledge this. He was right more often than not that if we let a little grass grow under our feet, we might not be here. And to Susan who has been a fiery advocate for small business, this PPP proposal takes great ideas. We’re advancing the first Cares bill, refines them into I think an even stronger package. She’s done a great job for example on outdoor venues, the stages. They and everyone in this group have been extraordinary.
Senator Mark Warner: (10:43)
To Josh and Tom too, and I think my hope is that the one piece that some of us have still got a way to get to, but I have great confidence in Josh and Tom, with Rob Portman, that we may be able to bridge the final [inaudible 00:10:59]. So, it’s a bit of a cliche to say they we’re living in challenging times, but what also, and it might sound like a cliche, but you know, today is actually a really good day for our country. This morning, the vaccines were started to be distributed around the country. And we’re starting to see at least the beginning of the end, God willing, of this pandemic. And also regardless of who we supported for the president, we’ve seen today, all across the country, as states made and sent forward their electors. Both things working.
Senator Mark Warner: (11:49)
And then finally, this group we have behind us, I think 12 senators. We actually got to 16 when we kind of called in additional allies. Mike Crapo and some of the CDFI, and Tim Kaine and Chris Coons, and Dick Blumenthal on some of the liability issues. I mean, you can’t normally get 16 senators to agree even what’s for lunch. But the fact that we came together on nearly a billion dollars, trillion dollars, excuse me, nearly trillion dollars of emergency relief for Americans in need, echoing what Joe says, this shows even as dysfunctional as the Congress sometimes can be, when we’re confronted with a crisis, this group, and God willing, our other colleagues will step up and do the right thing.
Senator Mark Warner: (12:43)
So I think it is a enormously good day for our country today, from the vaccine to our electoral process, to Congress actually working. The truth is as been mentioned already, this gets assistance to lots of Americans who are in desperate need. It would be Scrooge-like if we went away and left folks, the day after Christmas, to lose their unemployment, or the day after New Years, to lose their apartment. We have, I think, addressed virtually every major category. There are others who say there are additional things that could be added in this package, and if there is room to grow the package, so be it.
Senator Mark Warner: (13:28)
But I would challenge any member, Democrat or Republican, to say if we’re limited at 908, which of these categories would you take money from in terms of people who are in enormous need at this point? So I’m going to take this good news and hopefully we’re going to move forward to get this legislation passed. We implore our leaders on both sides. Take this work product. Build it into whatever package that gets voted on this week. Let’s make sure we bring it across the finish line. As Joe said at the outset, a lot of folks didn’t think we’d get to a product. There’s been a lot of gangs that didn’t get to a final product. We have that final product right here. And one of the individuals who is new to gang membership, but has been an extraordinarily important gang member, and a very challenging negotiator on a whole host of issues, is my good friend Senator Mitt Romney from Utah. Mitt.
Senator Mitt Romney: (14:39)
Thank you, Mark. I think the American people expect to see groups like this and hope to see groups like this work together and you’re seeing it. And that’s what makes me most encouraged about what we’ve accomplished but also most hopeful about what we can accomplish in the future. Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate can work together and can take on a tough issue. And this one looks particularly tough because on the one side you had folks saying anything less than $2 trillion was unacceptable. And on the other, you had folks saying anything over $500 billion was unacceptable. And there was an insight in that dinner we had at Lisa’s home. I think it was Dick Durbin who said it. He said, “This has an emergency provision. Isn’t it? We’re looking not just at what we’re going to do long-term for the country and stimulating the economy and so forth. We have people hurting right now. We have an emergency. So let’s look at what we need to do to take care of the emergency.”
Senator Mitt Romney: (15:42)
And that’s really this bill here that Joe just described, where we all came together. And by the way, there’s a lot in it that I’d change if I could, and I’m sure every one of us has things in here we’d do differently. This bill over here is less of an emergency, but also very important. And I’m just going to describe this. This last bill relates to two things, state and local aid and liability. And there’s some pretty significant differences there.
Senator Mitt Romney: (16:08)
And I’ll just note this. On the Republican side, when I talked to my Republican colleagues, I think the majority in the Senate among Republicans feel we should not provide any state and local money. Why is that? Well, because the numbers are all over the map as to how bad things are at states and localities. Some states have rainy day funds and are telling us they don’t need more money. Others are saying they need much more than we could have possibly imagined sending to them. So a lot of difference in data and difference in terms of how well they managed themselves in the past. And there’s a strong feeling we don’t want to just be paying for pensions that states might have needs to have filled. And so on the one side, there was the sense that, hey, we don’t need additional money for states and localities. That was the Republican, is the Republican point of view. At the same time, Republicans are saying, we’re willing to give on that if you’ll give on providing liability protection.
Senator Mitt Romney: (17:02)
… if you’ll give on providing liability protection so the doctors and the hospitals, schools, universities, small businesses, big businesses don’t get sued because people got COVID. That’s the trade-off. Providing funding for states and localities of $160 billion, and that’s in this bill, and liability protections. The liability protections language is difficult to sort out and we had to go to the experts. John Cornyn began with that effort. Oh, leave that up. Chris, leave that one back up.
Senator Mitt Romney: (17:34)
John Cornyn went out with the bill in that regard and our Democrat friends had a lot of changes they thought needed to be made, so we brought in the real negotiator and that’s Rob Portman. Rob Portman did a heroic job in negotiating together with Angus King and finding ways to see if we couldn’t improve the liability package to resolve the concerns Democrats had, and at the same time, provide the protection that Republicans wanted to see. Right now we’re going to turn to Bill Cassidy who’s going to describe the state and the local program. At some point, we’re going to hear from Rob Portman, I’m not sure quite when, on the liability front. Bill?
Bill Cassidy: (18:18)
It comes to mind that old joke. I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. We actually went … Thank you. We went to Congress and actually negotiations broke out. We actually came up with something that I think is a victory for the American people. I like to call this caucus, in my own mind, the Ronald Reagan-Top O’Neil Caucus because you have a spectrum from conservative to liberal to all points in between. The point wasn’t to, to borrow a phrase from a leader McConnell, to make a point. The point was to pass a law. Put differently, this bill is not about sending a message, unless the message is that Congress can work together to make something good happen for the American people at a time of incredible stress. Now, my portion of the bill is this one. This is the one in which we have state and local, which is combined with liability. I want to credit Tom Reed and Gottheimer and Bob Menendez because we started working on this four months ago, trying to find something that would recognize the difference between states as Mitt referenced that would be fair to all.
Bill Cassidy: (19:22)
Let me just go through the state and local funding over here. There’s $160 billion that will be unleashed if we can find an agreement on liability, 8 billion of that is a tribal set aside. There is 60 point … Then the remainder, remainder goes to state and localities. There’s a distribution formula right here. Two thirds will be … One third goes out the door based upon a state’s population like that. Two thirds will be based upon revenue loss. Of this one third … In fact, of the entire deal that goes out, one half goes to localities. One half goes to the states. We heard a lot from localities that they thought in their state, their governor did not treat them fairly. I don’t know if it’s true. But 40% goes out to the states and localities, which turns out to be $60.8 billion split between counties and cities and towns. There’s no minimum. You can have four people in your county someplace, and they could still apply if they have some need.
Bill Cassidy: (20:32)
Each state gets at least $500 million. Now governors must use how to distribute those 40% that goes to localities. Mitt mentioned there’s a great deal of variance as to how different states are affected. A governor may choose that it goes out to localities proportional to population. He may choose that it goes out proportional to the revenue loss or some blend in between, but it has to be the same for all. It can’t be, oh this city gets a whole lot because it’s based upon need and this city gets very little because it’s based upon population. It has to be the same formula. Importantly, states cannot use the money for pension funds. Period. End of story. They cannot put it more into their pension funds than they did in a previous year. We feel as if this addresses the needs for states that have lost a lot, but it’s fair to states who perhaps haven’t lost a lot, but nonetheless will need funding to enable the better distribution of vaccine or for needs that are yet unrealized because of the continued COVID crisis.
Bill Cassidy: (21:41)
I’ll just say again to Gottheimer, Reed, and Menendez, but to all that have been involved in this, a lot of viewpoints have gone into state and local funding. I sure hope we get to pass it because that means also that we come to an agreement on a liability reform. With that, I turn it over to my partner from the House, Josh Gottheimer.
Josh Gottheimer: (22:07)
A stool this time. I appreciate that. Thank you, Senator.
Bill Cassidy: (22:11)
Stool [inaudible 00:22:11] yesterday.
Josh Gottheimer: (22:11)
They said it couldn’t be done. But today, as Mark said a minute ago, we rolled out a vaccine and actually got Democrats and Republicans in both chambers to come together and get a bill done. To me, that is a Christmas miracle, as you said, Susan. I think that’s the perfect way to explain it. But there’s also a reality that I’m dealing with. 6,000 people in New Jersey yesterday were diagnosed with COVID-19 in a single day. One in 500 in my state have died from the disease. 30% of our small businesses have already been shuttered. Many Americans are in food lines for the very first time. Firefighters, cops and teachers are facing pink slips at Christmas. Yet here we are nine months after we pass the bipartisan CARES Act. We’ve been stuck into the mud in delivering relief for our families, communities and small businesses until today.
Josh Gottheimer: (23:02)
The mission of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus is to help restore Americans’ faith in our government and break the gridlock in Washington, the very gridlock that has prevented perhaps the one remaining thing in which all Americans agree, the need for emergency COVID relief, something to get us through the brutal winter ahead, through the spikes every one of our states is facing, something that is a short term focused down payment to get us into the next administration. For the past four months, a tiger team of our caucus, including my Republican co-chair and great friend, Tom Reed, along with Dean Phillips, who’s helped lead this tiger team was here, Anthony Gonzalez, Abigail Spanberger, and all of us had been a meeting nearly every single day. For the last month or so, we’ve had this incredibly welcoming group that is invited us in to sit down on their calls every day on their Zooms. Even on Thanksgiving they welcomed us in to get something that we could pass both chambers and signed to law by the president.
Josh Gottheimer: (24:04)
Nine months later, we’re pleased to have reached a common sense bipartisan agreement. The team effort is an example of how Congress should, can, and must act and work together and a model for governing in a way that the country needs and deserves, not just today, but in the months ahead. But now with the clock ticking, we’re here to announce the two separate bills and an agreement we’ve worked so hard to achieve. We’re very proud of the values it represents and how it is consistent with what we’ve been fighting for for months. We’re eager to find a way forward. The Problem Solvers Caucus remains eager to find a singular $908 billion comprehensive package that includes all the language and priorities that we’ve agreed to in the $748 billion bill plus the $160 billion bill for state and local and tribal governments with liability and worker protections. That’s our goal.
Josh Gottheimer: (24:54)
Like any negotiation, the parts we didn’t get, we understand that. But going home with nothing for the American people is simply not an option. Look at what it’s got. Supplemental unemployment, vaccine distribution, which is so vital now, PPP for our small businesses, a second round, food for the hungry, rental assistance, childcare and our state and local governments, all the assistance to help them, children, families, communities, small businesses, schools and teachers, hospitals and frontline workers, state, cities, and tribes, and much more all helped by this package. To show the effort continues, this afternoon, our 50 members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans asked us to keep going tonight to try to find a singular way forward. We voted to say let’s find a way to merge these together into a 908 package with the language we developed and worked on here with some tweaks on liability and worker protection to get there, but to make that we get that state and local and tribal assistance.
Josh Gottheimer: (25:58)
Everyone here worked 24/ 7 to make this happen. The last thing I’ll say about them, and we’re just welcomed them to the Senate today and I think our visa expires in about 15 minutes, so I’ll just get this in. These are not often the folks that you see on television or on social media slugging it out, screaming and yelling and tweeting nasty things. That’s not this group. What’s so impressive about the Senators and Joe and Susan, who’ve done such an incredible job leading, is they’re the ones who know how hard this year has been for our country and our neighbors, how much anger, resentment, and fear still grips our nation. These are the leaders who recognize the country should always come ahead of the party. I just want to thank everyone who worked so hard. On behalf of the Problem Solvers Caucus and the House with our 908 team here, we invite our colleagues to all come together in both chambers in the spirit of unity, in the spirit of humanity and in the spirit of America and Christmas and pass this comprehensive emergency relief package before we go home so that our country can begin the new year in the spirit of hope and optimism. Thanks and God bless.
Tom Reed: (26:59)
What are you talking about? Hey, Josh.
Josh Gottheimer: (27:02)
Now I’m going to call, sorry, my … I’m going to bring Tom on, okay? Our co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus and my dear friend, Tom Reed.
Tom Reed: (27:05)
How soon we’re forgotten when he goes to the Senate. I think you talked as long. We’re House members. We’re limited by time. You got to remember that.
Josh Gottheimer: (27:18)
You breathe better here.
Tom Reed: (27:19)
Well, thank you, Josh. First, I also want to echo my thanks to the members of the Senate that have truly invited us in to this process. I got to tell you, the men and women of the Senate that stand behind me are truly inspirational leaders to me as member of the House. As we spent hours together on these Zoom meetings, on these live person meetings, the depth of knowledge that these individuals demonstrated on each and every one of the issues that they cared passionately about, but also those that they did not but I took the time to really dig in to the details, was impressive. I got to tell you also, I am forever grateful for the depth of the friendships that now we have started from this experience that I will carry with me in the rest of my congressional career. To Joe Manchin, to Mark Warner, to all my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I truly have enjoyed this experience from a personal point of view.
Tom Reed: (28:21)
To my Republican colleagues, I have to tell you I was impressed before we began this journey together. I am more impressed even more so today. Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, all of you have demonstrated to me-
Senator Mitt Romney: (28:35)
How about Mitt?
Tom Reed: (28:36)
… and Mitt Romney and Lisa, who I’m going to introduce, Lisa. I knew the other ones before we started this journey. These I got to know after we started his journey. They truly are mentors now of mine as to how to be statesmen in the United States Congress. I thank you for that honor and that lesson. But as we go forward, I too echo the relief that we have come here to announce today is something we’re not done with. This has to get signed into law. As my colleagues in the House and us stood together and took a pledge here just a few weeks ago, we will not leave for Christmas break until this relief is delivered to the American people.
Tom Reed: (29:24)
As we talk about Christmas miracles, let us remember it’s not Christmas yet. As Josh alluded to, I think there’s one more Christmas miracle we hope to perform in the House and get these two bills into one. With that, I just want to say, let us get it done. Not for us, but for the people that we represent and the people who need this as soon as possible. I do get the honor to introduce the great Senator from Alaska, Lisa Murkowski, who now has become a friend and somebody who I look up to, but also who I know is not only the true ambassador for the fisheries of Alaska, but for the fisheries of the Great Lakes, which New York, Illinois, Dick Durbin. We have had numerous conversations on the Great Lakes. Oh, Rob Portman, of course. We talked about that at length. We appreciate you, Lisa Murkowski, and the style upon which you always conduct yourself. Lisa Murkowski.
Lisa Murkowski: (30:33)
Thank you, Tom. This is not just paper. This is hope. That stack of paper, that compilation of ideas and concerns and the hopes and the fears of the people all across the country, this is hope. This is hope for the individual who’s wondering if they’re going to be able to keep their apartment after the first of the year. This is hope for the food banks that I’ve been talking to just last week who came together on a call to me to say unprecedented what we’ve been seeing around the state in terms of the need of individuals who are coming to the food banks, people who have never been to the food bank before except to be there as volunteers and now they’re there as consumers. This is hope for the small businesses that right now are struggling as we have all come indoors for the winter. There is no dining outside in Alaska or in Maine or New Hampshire or in Utah.
Lisa Murkowski: (32:05)
This is hope. This is hope for those who have been asking their Congress to be responsive to what they’ve seen in the face of this pandemic. This is not only hope from a policy perspective, but this is hope from in a process perspective. Again, I think there are a lot of folks who wrote this group off very early on. We’ve seen gangs come and go. Maybe the secret was really in the sauce and it needed to happen over food. But our reality is that we have defied those who would say their disagreements would divide them. While what will be presented is two different stacks, I think it’s important that you’re hearing and seeing that there is a unity and purpose here. Even after the great debates and the long hours and the multiple Zooms, we’re still standing here together as Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate members.
Lisa Murkowski: (33:17)
We have two different packages. But I think that that too represents our reality, that when difficult things come to you and you can’t quite work them through, you don’t give up. To Josh and Tom, God bless you for saying we’re going to work to make these one. Because when we make these one, the country wins. We’ve talked a lot at state and local, but that heading is state and local and tribal. As someone who even comes from a state where half the tribes in this country happened to be in Alaska, I can tell you this tribal assistance-
Lisa Murkowski: (34:03)
Alaska. I can tell you this tribal assistance is pretty important. For those who have been most immediately impacted from a health disparity perspective, from the issue of just overall disparities, our native people, American Indians, Alaska natives are hurting and hurting bad and so making sure that these come together as one is going to continue to be our priority, but in the meantime, what we’ve been able to do is to give to leadership as they’re moving through in these final days, our ready made, negotiated product. You haven’t seen anybody else step forward.
Lisa Murkowski: (34:51)
We’ve got your gift, take it and I’m supposed to introduce, not supposed to. I am pleased introduce my friend who has been working with me on the nutrition and fisheries matters, Jeanne Shaheen has been a great partner throughout these negotiations, and I’m honored to stand with her and the rest of our friends. Jeanne.
Jeanne Shaheen: (35:18)
Well, thank you very much, Lisa and thank you to all of my colleagues in both the Senate and the House who are here this morning, this afternoon and I want to also appreciate the leadership of Joe Manchin and Susan Collins in the Senate, in helping to get us to this point. We know that this country is in a crisis. We have almost 300,000 people who have lost their lives to COVID-19. We have over 16 million people who have been infected in this country. We have 25% of our small businesses nationwide have closed. In New Hampshire, we have record levels of homelessness and food insecurity. We have 12 million people who are going to lose their unemployment in December if we fail to act, and I think there are two things that are really remarkable about this group.
Jeanne Shaheen: (36:16)
The first is that we came together of our own volition, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House to say, “We’ve got to do something to respond to the country’s’ being in crisis,” and we did that. We have the charts that show how the dollars break down. I was really proud to work with Lisa, not just on fisheries and nutrition and AG, but with Senator Collins on the small business provisions that are not just the paycheck protection program, but include idle grants and are particularly focused on the restaurant industry and hospitality, which has been hurt so much by this pandemic, as well as venues, which had been closed and many of them have not had a chance to get help. So we came together, we said, “We’ve got to do something,” and this package is a response.
Jeanne Shaheen: (37:15)
It’s not the bill that each of us would have written, for sure, but like all good legislation it is a compromise. The other aspect about it that I think is so remarkable is what has been alluded to by so many of the people who have spoken, and I think all of us feel this way. What we’ve heard loud and clear from the American people is that they’re tired of the partisanship. They want to see us in Congress, work together to address the needs of this country, particularly now in the middle of this pandemic, and that’s what all of this work and this work product attest to.
Jeanne Shaheen: (37:53)
Now hopefully, the leadership above the House and Senate and in the administration will take what we have done. We’ll vote on it and we will provide relief to the people who need it as we’re going into the cold winter months, as we’re looking at a new administration coming in, as we’re talking about what we need to do, long-term to provide stimulus to the economy. This is the relief that will help people to get to that point. Thank you, and I’m very pleased to now introduce our independent in the group, Angus King.
Angus King: (38:31)
Thank you. Thank you. I once said to Susan, “You think of me as two thirds of a Democrat, don’t you?” And she said, “No, it’s actually more like three quarters,” that’s a long bit of history. I think just first, a couple of process things that perhaps haven’t come through entirely clearly. This bill, this $748 billion bill, is unanimous. It has the support of all of us, and I think that’s very important. It’s a consensus product to deal with the true emergency associated with this pandemic at this moment in time and I think that’s important. The other piece involving state and local aid and liability, we couldn’t come to a uniform consensus, although there is still work going on in that area.
Angus King: (39:25)
So I think that’s important. A second kind of process piece, that may not be obvious is, we’re not handing the Senate leadership a concept draft. We’re not handing them an outline. We’re handing them a bill. This could go on the floor of the senate tomorrow.
Angus King: (39:48)
It is in legislative language. It’s been through legislative council. So, we’ve taken a lot of the work out of this for them and hope that this will be the basis of the package that emerges at the end of the week. Now there are two areas that I worked on in particular. Actually, three but the two in particular were addiction and mental health and Broadband. Addiction and mental health, we are going through an epidemic not only of Corona Virus but of isolation, suicide and depression and that is going hand-in-hand with the elements of this terrible virus that is afflicting us.
Angus King: (40:25)
So there’s a significant portion of this bill that deals with, not only Opioids but Methamphetamines, alcohol, other substances which are prone to abuse but also mental health centers across the country, a very important part of the bill. Broadband is here because if there’s anything we’ve learned from this pandemic, among many other lessons, is that we need to be connected. Seniors need to be able to do tele-health, students need to be able to connect with their schools and there are huge gaps in this country in terms of connectivity, particularly in rural areas, in places like my my State of Maine.
Angus King: (41:03)
So there’s a significant portion of this bill that directly addresses that in terms of emergency of connectivity over the next several months, but also in terms of developing the infrastructure to make those kinds of connections important. The third piece that I worked on intensely was liability, and I realize today that I’ve gotten more texts from Rob Portman in the last week than from my 20 something daughter, and that sorts of puts in perspective how hard we’ve been working.
Angus King: (41:34)
Rob and I have worked intensively. We’ve put proposal, we’ve shared proposals back and forth. We couldn’t quite get to the conclusion, and I want to make it clear. Everybody here, including myself is concerned about the threat of lawsuits and what could happen to businesses, to hospitals, to doctors in a situation of unfettered litigation. On the other hand, there is a concern because when you talk about lawsuits and litigation, you’re also talking about injured people and you’re talking about people who have a right to be heard and have a right compensation if they were wrongly injured and so what we’ve tried to do is to balance those two interests.
Angus King: (42:21)
We couldn’t quite make it. The House is continuing to work on it. I’m optimistic that they may be able to find the solution. Rob and I will continue to work on it and it may be that by the end of the week, we’ll be able to merge these two bills because I’m a huge advocate for state and local aid but the agreement going in was that those two issues were related and they were going to go either together or separately.
Angus King: (42:49)
So that’s the status of that discussion, but the final thing I want to say is, I hope in the not too distant future, when a group of bipartisan senators calls a press conference to talk about how they’ve been working together to solve an important problem, nobody comes. By that I mean, this should be the way it always works. This shouldn’t be so unusual as to bring all of you here. I want this to be routine. All of us have commented to one another that this has been one of the most difficult but also one of the most rewarding legislating experiences that we’ve had in this body, sitting down, arguing, differing, issuing our statements, working with our staff to try to get our points in order to do the work that made it. This is the way it’s supposed to work.
Angus King: (43:40)
So my hope is that we’re going to have so much bipartisanship that it will become routine and will be the way that we routinely do business and I think that’s something that the American people will deeply appreciate. I know it’s something that they seek. This is a Christmas gift to the American people and I sincerely hope that our colleagues in the Senate and the House, and the White House will cease upon it, execute the work that’s necessary to finalize the package and I look forward to seeing the help that we offered go out to the American people in the next several weeks, days and weeks. Thank you, and now I get to introduce my colleague, Rob Portman of Ohio.
Angus King: (44:28)
He and I have negotiated with him driving in the car but it was a hands-free phone, I hasten to say but Rob, as you know, has a very distinguished career as a director of office management and of budget, US trade representative and a distinguished and able senator from Ohio. Rob Portman.
Rob Portman: (44:54)
Angus, thank you. I think Angus as an independent understated the importance of this moment. This is not just bipartisan, it’s tri-partisan. So we’re glad you’re with us. Let me just say, I’m told by my staff now, given 24 speeches urging our colleagues on both sides of the isles, specifically our leadership to produce another COVID-19 bill, why, because it’s desperately needed. The last big one was the CARES package, that was in March. That was over nine months ago. Think about that. Think what’s happened since. So some of you have had to listen to those speeches, actually very few of you probably did but the point I kept making was, there’s a lot of common ground here, yeah we’ve got some differences but look at this.
Rob Portman: (45:50)
It required these individuals behind us, to find that common ground. It wasn’t easy but it was there. There are a couple things we’re still working on but I think this is a tremendous step forward and it’s needed. Every day in Ohio now, we have another 10,000 plus people who are being infected. We’re on our third wave and it’s bad. It’s really bad. I just lost my third fried to COVID. He died in a hospital after a painful process of being in the ICU and going through with his family, the grief and the pain. All of us has these experiences. This is personal, and the healthcare crisis has been accompanied by an impact on the economy.
Rob Portman: (46:39)
Some of my colleagues say, “Well, the economy is better. Why do we need to do this?” Folks, I got to tell you, the economy is not getting better in most of our states, it’s hurting and particularly, even though some sectors are doing well, other sectors are really struggling. It was mentioned today that the small businesses in hospitality area, the restaurants, the movie theaters, the bowling allies, the bus companies, travel, entertainment, they are really hurting the stages. Some are hanging by a thread. Some have already closed and in Ohio, some of those will never open. Never. They’re done.
Rob Portman: (47:21)
So this is the crisis that we face and I appreciate working with Angus on the addiction and mental health issues because unfortunately we have a pandemic, within a pandemic, within a pandemic and as some of you know, I’ve worked a lot on this issue with the Opioid side of this and we were finally making progress and now we’re going to have the worst year ever, this year in the history of country in terms of the people who died from an overdose.
Rob Portman: (47:46)
It will be the worst year ever. After we finally made progress, 20 years of this and we were turning the corner. We had a 22% reduction in overdose deaths in Ohio just a couple of years ago and now we’re back. It’s the isolation, it’s the despair, it’s the joblessness but other factors too. Not being able to go in and get your healthcare, to meet with your recovery coach and we all know about the suicide rates and the behavioral health issues. So I appreciate working on that and we provide some help.
Rob Portman: (48:18)
I appreciate the work on the unemployment insurance. This is one that is actually quite controversial and yet this group was able to come together and for my constituents back home, who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, this is what they’re asking me about. Are the self-employed going to be able to continue to get UI? If we don’t act, the day after Christmas they lose it.
Rob Portman: (48:41)
If we don’t act, the day after Christmas, those individuals who run extended federal benefits lose it. They actually lose it. So not only do we add the $300 back in, which as you know we had until late summer till August, but also ensure that we are continuing the assistance that’s already there. Again, I wish the economy were getting better all over the place. Everybody goes back to work, everything was great. That’s not what I see, it’s not what I feel, it’s not what my colleagues hear. So that’s all in here and I appreciate working here with my colleagues on that.
Rob Portman: (49:16)
In terms of liability, I think Mitt Romney said it well, there is a bill that John Cornyn drafted that’s carefully thought out and it is the bill that most republicans are supporting, and it’s one that our republican leadership supports and it was the basis for we republicans to say this is the general approach that we like, we have a lot of concern in our caucus about state and local funding, in part because of some of the numbers frankly, typically with regard to the states. So need to have a balance here and that was part of the deal going into these discussions.
Rob Portman: (49:53)
We didn’t quite get there although, thanks to Joe Manchin, it’s bipartisan. It’s not tri-partisan yet. Where’s Angus?
Angus King: (50:07)
I heard it.
Rob Portman: (50:07)
That’s the goal. So all the republicans are supporting this and Joe Manchin is, and I appreciate that but folks we narrowed the differences considerably. I feel badly for John Cornyn’s bill because it doesn’t look like John Cornyn’s bill anymore. Let’s just be honest with you. You’ll see about half the provisions are either gone or they have been changed because we’ve listened to all of my democratic colleagues back here and we tried to come up with the combinations. We didn’t get there but we got awfully close and in the House we’re continuing those discussions, but just to be clear what this is about.
Rob Portman: (50:42)
This is about that business, which is a grocery store in Pennsylvania that has said to its employees and customers, “You’ve got to wear a mask,” and they’re getting sued.
Rob Portman: (50:55)
They’re not part of a big chain and they’re thinking, I’m getting sued because I’m telling people what I think was the best thing to do. The standards were evolving, right?
Rob Portman: (51:03)
… I’m telling people what I think was the best thing to do. The standards were evolving, right? This is a national emergency and the standards have been all over the place. So what in good faith should a business do? Or a small nonprofit, like a small nursing home, a private nursing home, or a nonprofit nursing home in all of our states, they’re all scared to death. They’re not quite sure what the standards were and what they should do. They don’t want to get into the lawsuit because they can’t even fight the lawsuit.
Rob Portman: (51:27)
They might think they can win the judgment in the end, but they can’t afford 30, 40, 50, 60, 70… I’m looking at my states. $80,000 it’s going to cost to actually defend themselves. A lot of these businesses are hanging by a thread. That’s the idea here. It’s not to let bad actors off. It really isn’t. If you’re a bad actor, you should be held liable. It’s to say to the people who in good faith tried to follow the rules as best they can tell… and by the way, the rules are evolving even as we talk.
Rob Portman: (52:02)
So that protection, I don’t think my Democratic colleagues disagree there’s protection needed. Angus just said that. But I do think that we have got to figure out a way to get to “yes.” There was a survey done the middle of… this was by the chamber of commerce so I don’t know if it’s a survey that my Democratic colleagues would support. But it said to people, “What do you think? Should people be subjected to lawsuits unless they are grossly negligent?” And according to the survey, 79% of the American people said no they should not be, if they in good faith tried to follow the rules. Now if they were grossly negligent, they shouldn’t be protected. That’s what this bill tries to do. So, that’s what this is all about. And there are companies being sued around the country, and unfortunately not every state has put standards in. Some have, some haven’t. But only 15 states have done anything with regard to business liability, as an example.
Rob Portman: (52:59)
So our idea is, do this temporarily, it only lasts one year from the date of enactment, which was different than the Cornyn bill which is four years from the date of the enactment, or until the national emergency ends. It’s short term, it’s an emergency response. It’s to ensure that we indeed can, not just reopen this economy and ensure that our hospitals and nursing homes are doing their best to try to provide care that they need without worrying about frivolous lawsuits, but also so they can stay open.
Rob Portman: (53:37)
So it’s all tied into the economic crisis that we face and on top of the healthcare crisis. My hope is that we can make progress. My hope is that before we go home for the holidays, we’ll be up here again talking about progress on all these issues. But I will speak for all of my colleagues, I think, in saying we cannot leave, we cannot adjourn without passing a COVID-19 emergency bill for the people we represent.
Speaker 1: (54:10)
Rob Portman: (54:11)
[crosstalk 00:54:11] No one told me what I was supposed to do. What can I say about Maggie Hassan, except that she’s been a great partner in this from the start. And, specifically, Maggie’s a very smart lawyer. Maggie’s a former governor. She has a lot of experience. And she brought that to bear on all of the major issues here, including liability reforms. So, Maggie, now to you.
Maggie Hassan: (54:36)
Well, good afternoon. And I want to thank my colleagues all, but especially Joe Manchin and Susan Collins for leading us in this effort and to the whole group, because what you just heard, the description of ongoing conversations, Zooms, texts, emails is that an accurate one. And the agreement reflected in this stack of paper here is an extraordinary amount of work in a short amount of time. But of course it is nothing in comparison to what our constituents are dealing with and how hard they are working to keep their families, their communities, their businesses afloat. And to keep their eyes on the future. On this day, when we are seeing the first vaccines in our country distributed.
Maggie Hassan: (55:28)
I want to talk about a couple of things that haven’t been mentioned, while there is still work to be done on this joint package on liability protections and state local and tribal aid. There is also, though, an agreement and is reflected in the $740 billion bill on aid to our schools and our colleges, and that reflects $82 billion worth of education funding, a majority of it going to our public schools K-12. Also, some money going for higher education, both the institutions and the most in-need students. As well as a similar fund, that you saw in the CARES Act, to governors to give them some flexibility to help schools with COVID related expenses.
Maggie Hassan: (56:18)
We have been hearing loudly and clearly from our educators about the challenges that they have, not only now, either due to remote learning in-person learning or a mixture of the two. But we know that they are anticipating a reopening of schools where our children will not only have some learning gaps or lags to address, but some social and emotional issues to address as well.
Maggie Hassan: (56:43)
The challenges for America’s schools moving forward are going to be considerable. They also represent opportunity for us to come together and recommit ourselves to our nation’s children. But it’s critically important that we address that now. And I’m pleased and so grateful to all of my colleagues for working on this with us. Senator Cassidy and I on the education funding. And as Senator Portman described, we also worked on the employment issue. And the whole group on State and Local really we’re very hard on the formulas that you see.
Maggie Hassan: (57:18)
I do want to just say on the liability issue, Democrats are concerned too about the very instances and examples that Senator Portman laid out. I think the difference we’re trying to work through is that as we read the language, it just seems to go beyond the COVID situation and address some things that really have a broader impact and don’t deal with COVID. So we just have to work this through.
Maggie Hassan: (57:48)
This morning, I spent about an hour doing the Zoom with leader’s of New Hampshire’s long-term care facilities, nursing homes. Everybody in masks… Our VA medical center leaders who are deploying some of their personnel to support other nursing homes in our state, as they are dealing with the ravages of COVID-19. A virus that one of them described as truly “insidious.”
Maggie Hassan: (58:16)
They are working as hard as they can to protect their residents and each other. They are having staff spend the night in the long-term care facility so they don’t bring COVID out to their communities or they don’t bring COVID from their communities into their long-term care facilities.
Maggie Hassan: (58:37)
Our people are working as hard as they can to solve the problems that are springing up moment after moment or day after day, right now. The least they should expect from their elected representatives is that we follow their example, and come together and solve problems. You can’t care more about winning an argument than you do about solving a problem. And this group knows that, and his word really true to that goal throughout this process. And I’m very grateful to all of you. And now it’s my pleasure to introduce my wonderful colleague from Illinois, who has just been working as hard as he can to help us all bridge a number of issues. A wonderful listener, a wonderful legislator, and a wonderful friend, Dick Durban.
Dick Durban: (59:29)
Let me start it off by thanking Joe Manchin. I was originally scheduled to be on tomorrow morning’s list of speakers and he allowed me to come in this evening’s list. [crosstalk 00:59:36] Thank you very much Joe.
Senator Joe Manchin: (59:36)
Dick Durban: (59:48)
It’s hard to imagine it’s been nine months since we passed a COVID-19 relief bill. But we passed it 96 to nothing, strong bipartisan vote, $3 trillion. Nine months. You know what’s happened, it’s been recounted over and over what’s happened in America since then. And there have been efforts, efforts made to come up with a new COVID relief bill. Some passed the House and others were offered in the Senate… The net result of it was zero, nothing. Nothing to show for it, for all of this concern across America over what we’re going through with this pandemic and with this economic situation, we couldn’t pass a bill. Not in the ordinary way. Not in the committee to the floor, amendment, to the other chamber, conference committee. You read that in How Laws are Made. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
Dick Durban: (01:00:40)
And as we failed over and over again to do anything, the American people told us about it. They said, “You’re pathetic. You’re pathetic. In the midst of a pandemic with this economic downturn you can’t find a majority in both houses for anything?” It’s no wonder that they lost faith in Congress, maybe in the White House. It’s no wonder that some point a number of us said, “We’ve got to try something new.”
Dick Durban: (01:01:10)
So we sat around Lisa Murkowski’s house one night, social distancing, windows open, masks on and started the conversation and it led to where we are today. Weeks have passed, hours and hours of Zoom calls and we’ve reached this point. It feels good. It feels like legislating. It feels like why we were elected. I remember at one point, Mitt you said, “How do I explain to the people of Utah that I came out to Washington to address the national debt and healthcare, and we don’t even talk about them on the floor of the Senate?” I remember, you said it that day. And that’s the reality. We just don’t talk about that in polite company. Well, we decided to try it differently.
Dick Durban: (01:01:55)
Hats off, Joe Manchin, Mark Warner, Susan Collins, Jeanne Shaheen, all of them… I’m going to miss some if I go through. Lisa [inaudible 01:02:04] again. We’ve come this far and this bill shows it. $748 billion, dramatic amount of money. And it’s going to help people who desperately need it.
Dick Durban: (01:02:18)
I won’t go through it because we’ve heard the litany recounted over and over again of all the things that are included in this bill. This is our consensus bill, we all agree on it. It’s ready to go. There’s no excuse for either the Speaker or the Leader. You’ve got it. Give us the vote. Don’t let us go home for Christmas without a vote on this. Maybe you’ve got something better? Be my guest, bring it as an amendment. But, there’s no excuse for us not acting now that we have put in all of this work on a bipartisan basis.
Dick Durban: (01:02:53)
And then there’s the side of the equation. And I think it’s been described accurately, consensus, all a board. On this side, bare majority, not all aboard. But the two provisions in this thing are critically important. I will tell you right off the bat, I think we should be talking a lot more than $900 billion for what we’re facing. But, in the interest of compromise, we stuck to the $980 billion. I think we ought to stick to it all the way through.
Dick Durban: (01:03:25)
I also feel that help for state and local governments included in here is absolutely critical. Many of them are struggling to get by and counting on us to deliver. There may be some difference of opinion in the Republican caucus, I don’t doubt that. But I think by and large, we know that America is better when we’re not laying off firefighters and policemen and healthcare workers and teachers. Not at this moment in our history.
Dick Durban: (01:03:50)
So what stopped it from being, as Lisa described, one bill? The liability section. Rob Portman gave his explanation, his defense. At one point Angus King said to me, “Don’t debate him.” And then he went on a little longer and said, “I guess you have to debate him.” I’m not going to do it.
Dick Durban: (01:04:13)
All I can say is, fundamental to this conversation is fairness. Fairness to the business which is making a good faith effort to protect customers and workers. And fairness to the victim who without a day in court, if they are wronged or hurt, cannot get compensation. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve got to be able to find a middle ground here, strike a middle ground that is fair to both.
Dick Durban: (01:04:40)
That’s still the burden we face. And I urge my friends in the House, both sides in the problems solver caucus, take a look at the suggestions that have been made by Democrats and Republicans when you try to find your position on this issue.
Dick Durban: (01:04:55)
And that’s all I have to say at this point, other than close and say, we can’t go home for Christmas if we don’t do this. We cannot go home for Christmas and leave millions of Americans losing their unemployment insurance the day after Christmas because we didn’t even debate it on the floor of the Senate. Both sides have to urge for that to happen. I think we will.
Senator Joe Manchin: (01:05:26)
Let me wrap this up very quickly and thank you all for being so patient and kind. I want to thank Dean Phillips for being here. Dean has been very instrumental from the House side working with us. But let me just tell you this, everyone has told you basically this is “help is on the way.” Tell the American people that help is on the way. It’s here. There’s not a reason why our leadership should not take this up immediately and pass it.
Senator Joe Manchin: (01:05:43)
And not that we should not go home for Christmas, we will not go home from Christmas until we pass legislation that gives relief to the American people. We’re hopeful that both of these become together. And In the spirit of cooperation, I was for both. That’s the bipartisanship. Because both sides have absolutely, I think, compelling arguments and the need and reasons why we have the positions we have. I have all things in the world are going to come together on this. But, help is on the way, this one right here.
Senator Joe Manchin: (01:06:14)
How are we going to do this right now is not open questions right now. Everybody that you might want to question, they’re going to stand… Our Senators are going to stand. We have as far as our liability protection, we’ve got Rob, we’ve got Josh, we’ve got Tom and we’ve got our lawyers. Did Dick leave? No, Dick, don’t leave.
Senator Joe Manchin: (01:06:29)
So you can hear from both of them where we are and what we’re trying to do. Anybody on everything that we’ve agreed on, over here. You ask any questions you want, to anybody over here if you would? So come up gang, and stay wherever you want to stay.
Mitt Romney: (01:06:42)
Nicely done, buddy.
Senator Joe Manchin: (01:06:44)
Okay. Thank you all. Thank you. God bless you. Thank you for staying. If you’ve got a question, come up and ask us. [crosstalk 01:06:55]