U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner told the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC on Monday that while America suffers, Washington is playing political games.
Senate Democrats, as they did over the weekend, are blocking a $1.8 trillion stimulus package, saying it amounts to a Trump administration giveaway to corporations with only indirect benefits for workers.
Democrats say the bill carves out a $500 billion slush fund that allows the Trump administration to decide which companies benefit, without transparency or guardrails to ensure corporations don't pocket the income and still lay off workers.
The first-term Republican senator from the Eastern Plains held a telephone town hall with Pikes Peak region leaders Monday afternoon.
"If we're going succeed on social-distancing measures, if we're going to succeed on flattening the curve, the American people are going to need certainty that they're going to be able to put food on the table; they're going to be able to pay the rent and they're going to be able to pay the mortgage," Gardner said. "This legislation gives them that certainty."
He spoke about the unemployment insurance he's worked on, as well as assistance for businesses that employ 500 people or fewer, including eight weeks of payroll and benefits, mortgage and debts that could be forgiven.
"This is an incredibly powerful tool designed to allow businesses keep workers on the the payroll," Gardner said.
He said the bill offers short-term and long-term help for employers.
"There's some light at the end of the tunnel provisions for businesses," Gardner told the Springs chamber members.
During the phone call, the chamber surveyed members on the call on how the pandemic was affecting their business. Fifty-seven percent said they were severely curtailing hours and services; 31% said there was no change; and 13% have seen an increase in business.
He said retirees would see protections and relief, without facing penalties for early savings withdrawals related to COVID-19, as well.
Meanwhile Monday, financial markets continued to gyrate wildly from the economic shutdown caused by the pandemic.
Gardner is one of five Republican senators who are in quarantine and has not been able to vote on the relief package — H.R. 748, titled the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, voted against the bill on Monday. Immediately after the 49-46 vote on the stimulus bill, he issued a statement:
"We need to pass legislation that ensures our frontline health workers, hospitals and states have the resources they need to fight this pandemic, and that workers, families and businesses have the economic support to weather this crisis," he said. "We have to do this the right away. While Democrats are working with the White House to negotiate a bill, Leader (Mitch) McConnell is playing politics in the Senate.
"We need to keep working in a bipartisan way to achieve the right deal as quickly as possible. Holding votes for politics won’t achieve that goal. I urge my Republican colleagues to stop the games and work with Democrats and the White House to get this done."
On Sunday, Bennet tweeted an ultimatum to the president.
"Given the unprecedented threat of the pandemic to our public health, the administration must immediately make clear its plan to address shortages of critical supplies and ensure America has everything we need to address this crisis," he tweeted. "We expect an answer by Tuesday."
Last week Bennet was one of six Democratic senators who sent a letter to leaders of both parties in the upper chamber asking for more money, $2,000 each, paid directly to adults for relief.
"We must provide direct cash support to the American workers and families who need it most — to help them purchase essentials; pay the rent, mortgage, and bills; and otherwise weather the coming weeks and months," the letter stated. "We believe it is essential to provide assistance directly and quickly. Regardless of how fast Congress acts, there will be a lag between action and support arriving to workers and businesses, and every day we delay action will be a delay in support arriving. Now is not the time for a 'wait-and-see' mentality."
Gardner said told the Springs chamber members Monday that the GOP relief bill includes $350 billion to keep businesses from going under and keep people from losing their jobs. His office said in a fact sheet that the bill would help 1.1 million Colorado workers employed by small businesses.
The Republican bill also would deliver $250 billion in direct payments — up to $1,200 for individual tax filers, $2,400 for married couples plus $500 per child.
Schools would receive $20.1 billion for immediate needs, including technology and support for distance learning. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would get $15.5 billion, among the beneficiaries that include the health care system.
He noted that the Republican bill includes $10 billion to help sustain airports and provide loans to airlines.
Greg Phillips, director of aviation at the Colorado Springs Airport, thanked Gardner for his work on the bill.
"The air transportation network is the backbone of our transportation infrastructure," Phillips said. "What is proposed is something we support ... and is a relevant and realistic package that helps move us forward so we can work our way through this as quickly as possible."
Gardner on Monday urged Coloradans to give blood and check in by phone on their neighbors.
"We are going to get through this," he said. "We will be stronger than we've ever been before, but we have to do it together. Together we will thrive."