Floor Speech on the Republican “Skinny” Relief Bill

Mr. President: Today, as a result of the horrific pandemic and economic meltdown, the American working-class is hurting like they have never hurt before. 

Tens of millions of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs.  They have lost their incomes.  They have lost their health insurance. They have depleted their life savings.  They cannot afford to pay the rent.  They cannot afford to put food on the table.  And they are scared to death that any day now they will get a knock on the door from the sheriff evicting them from their homes and throwing them and their belongings out on the street.

Mr. President.  This is the United States of America, the richest country in the history of the world.  No one should be going hungry.  No one should have to live in fear of becoming homeless.  No one should be denied the health care that they need, especially during the worst public health crisis in over a hundred years.

But that is precisely what is going on all over America as we speak.

Just the other day, National Public Radio released a survey on the unprecedented economic suffering facing the American people that should shock everyone in the United States Senate into action.

And here is what that survey found:

46 percent of Americans – over 150 million people – are now experiencing serious financial problems.

41 percent of Americans – over 134 million people – have used up all or most of their savings.

33 percent of American families have had someone in their household who has either lost a job, lost a business or has been furloughed during the pandemic.

Mr. President.  This is an unprecedented moment in American history and the Senate needs to take unprecedented action now to improve the lives of the American people.

And yet, in the midst of all of this pain, what has the Republican Senate done over the last 5 months to address the economic suffering of the American people?  Nothing, except pass a $740 billion budget for the bloated Pentagon and take an extended vacation. 

And now that the Senate is back in session, Senate Republicans have introduced a so-called “skinny relief” bill that is totally inadequate in terms of addressing the crisis that we are facing today.

The Senate Republican bill provides nothing for rent, nothing for mortgages, nothing for food, nothing for hazard pay, nothing for healthcare, nothing for public transportation, and nothing to prevent the mass layoffs of teachers, nurses, firefighters and construction workers.

In other words, the same Republicans who had no problem voting for a trillion dollar tax break to the top one percent and large corporations two years ago, are now telling 40 million Americans who are struggling to pay for housing that we cannot afford to help them pay their rent or their mortgage.

The same Republicans who just voted to provide $740 billion for the bloated Pentagon and military industrial complex to wage endless wars, are now telling 30 million workers who lost their jobs that we cannot afford to continue the $600 a week supplement they were receiving in unemployment benefits.

The same Republicans who slipped a $135 billion tax break for multi-millionaires and billionaires into the last coronavirus relief package, are now telling 29 million Americans who do not have enough food to eat that we cannot afford to help them feed their families.

But Mr. President, if you are an executive in the coal industry, you are in luck.  The Republican Senate bill provides your industry with $161 million in corporate welfare. 

That’s right.  The Republican Senate bill provides no money for working families.  No money to feed the hungry.  No money to house the homeless.  No money to insure the uninsured – no money for them.  But it does provide $161 million in corporate welfare for the coal industry during a climate emergency.

Well, Mr. President.  That may make sense to the CEOs in the fossil fuel industry who are destroying the planet, but it makes zero sense to me.

Further, under the Senate Republican bill, if you are a rich business owner who forces employees to work in an unsafe and unhealthy workplace, you are rewarded.  The Republican bill will provide you with the immunity you need from lawsuits if your workers get sick or die from the coronavirus.  But if you are an essential worker during this pandemic, you get nothing.  The Republican bill does not provide a nickel more for hazard pay or the personal protective equipment that you need and deserve.

Needless to say, I am strongly opposed to the Senate Republican bill and I am glad that it was defeated earlier today.

Mr. President, instead of listening to the needs of fossil fuel CEOs, we need to listen to the needs of working-class Americans.

Instead of providing more corporate welfare to billionaires and large corporations, we need to provide more economic relief to the tens of millions of Americans who are hurting economically.

Mr. President, nearly 4 months ago, the House of Representatives did its job by passing the HEROES Act – a $3.5 trillion bill.  In my view, the Senate has got to stand up and do its job and pass a bill that is just as good if not better than what the House did.

Now, Mr. President, I have received, many thousands of letters, emails and social media responses from my constituents in Vermont and all over this country about how the economic crisis has negatively impacted their lives and what the $600 a week in unemployment benefits that expired in July meant to them.  

Let me read to you just a few of the many thousands of stories my office has received:

A constituent from North Chittenden, Vermont wrote:

“I was laid off in March. Since the end of the extra $600 I’ve been able to eat because of the food bank. I wasn’t able to get one of my prescriptions because even with insurance it was $88. I saved as much as I could during the extra $600 period but I’m almost out of money now. Literally enough to make it about 10 days. Then what? I’m 65.”

An unemployed worker wrote: “We can’t pay our rent including car payment and car insurance, bills, feed our four kids or buy necessities. We desperately need the extra $600 to stay afloat. If we don’t get our money soon, we could lose EVERYTHING!!!”

Another unemployed worker recently wrote: “My state benefit was $127/week (I exhausted my available state funds last week). My rent is $1,200 a month. Without further congressional action I will be unhoused within a month or two.”

A constituent from Danville, Vermont wrote:

“That moment the government stopped the $600 a week they closed my benefits. I never saw anything other than that $600 and it went to bills and rent. Now I’m behind on everything again.”

And on and on it goes.

Clearly, in the midst of this unprecedented crisis the Senate must act and act NOW.  Not with a “skinny relief” bill that does virtually nothing to help working families in their time of need.  But with legislation that responds to the unprecedented economic pain and suffering that the American working class is experiencing.

We need to extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits for the 30 million Americans who have lost their jobs – like the House passed over 3 months ago.  This is absolutely essential. It would give families, during this crisis, the income they need to live with dignity.

We need to make sure that every working-class person in America receives $2,000 a month until this crisis is over so that they can pay the rent and put food on the table.

We need to expand Medicare to all of the 92 million Americans who are uninsured or under-insured.

In other words, we need a coronavirus relief bill that benefits the working class and the poor, not the wealthy and the well-connected.

Now, I know what my Republican colleagues will say: “That’s too expensive.  We can’t afford it.”

Well, maybe, just maybe, if my Republican colleagues were so concerned about the deficit, they may want to ask their billionaire campaign contributors to pay more in taxes, instead of giving them massive tax breaks.

Mr. President, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and the worst public health crisis in more than a hundred years, I think most Americans would be shocked to learn that 467 billionaires in our country have seen their wealth go up by $800 billion.

Let me repeat that.  467 billionaires have seen their wealth go up by $800 billion during the pandemic.

In my view, at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, when so many our people are hurting, it is morally obscene for billionaires to use a global pandemic as an opportunity to make outrageous profits.

Instead of more austerity for the working class and the poor, we need to impose austerity on the billionaire class and Wall Street.

And that is why, Mr. President, I have introduced legislation to tax the obscene wealth gains billionaires have made during the public health crisis.

According to Americans for Tax Fairness, if we taxed 60 percent of the windfall gains billionaires made during the pandemic we could raise over $420 billion.  That’s enough revenue to allow Medicare to pay all of the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses for everyone in America over the next 12 months.

Yes, Mr. President, by taxing 60 percent of the wealth gains made by just 467 billionaires during this horrific pandemic, we could guarantee healthcare as a right for an entire year. And billionaires would still be able to pocket more than $310 billion in wealth gains during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. 

At a time of enormous economic pain and suffering, we have a choice to make.  We can continue to allow the very rich to get much richer while everyone else gets poorer and poorer. Or we can tax the winnings a handful of billionaires made during the pandemic to improve the health and well-being of tens of millions of Americans. 

Mr. President, it is time for the Senate to act on behalf of the working class who are hurting like they have never hurt before, not the billionaire class who are doing phenomenally well and have never had it so good.

You can watch the floor speech here.