Elected officials must set aside agendas, work together on COVID-19 response

October 29, 2020
Burchett Opinions
Now, calls are growing for another stimulus package, but a significant portion of available resources have gone unused.

Elected officials must set aside agendas, work together on COVID-19 response

This article was originally featured in the Knoxville News Sentinel on October 29, 2020

COVID-19 continues to affect everyday life, separating loved ones and keeping folks away from work. The federal government needs to come together and identify responsible, meaningful ways to address this crisis. Since the pandemic began, I have supported bills — both large and small — that helped offset the impact of this crisis. But negotiations on next steps in the pandemic response have stalled. It’s time to put political agendas aside and get to work.

Back in March, I voted for the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, the most comprehensive legislative coronavirus response to date. This legislation created the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, provided financial relief to millions of Americans through stimulus checks and expanded coronavirus testing. The PPP proved to be effective, providing over $8.9 billion to Tennessee small businesses and preserving thousands of jobs. 

Three bills worthy of support

The positive PPP results led me to support two additional measures: H.R. 266, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, and H.R. 7010, the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act. These two bills provided $30 billion more to the PPP and made economic resources accessible to small businesses that weren’t originally eligible under the CARES Act. H.R. 266 also included $25 billion for COVID-19 testing and $75 billion for hospitals to purchase personal protective equipment. 

I was able to support these three bills because they targeted legitimate issues caused by the pandemic and supplied much-needed relief to struggling small businesses, workers and health care professionals.

Now, calls are growing for another stimulus package, but a significant portion of available resources have gone unused. The PPP Program, for example, expired in August with over $130 billion in unspent funds. This is one of the primary reasons I opposed both versions of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s HEROES (Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions) Act, which also included partisan items even moderate Democrats weren’t comfortable with.

Committees being excluded

Negotiations over another stimulus package have been ongoing for several months, with only a handful of political leaders involved in the discussion. Excluding almost every member of Congress from negotiations has proved to be a failing approach. As I’ve said repeatedly, Congress needs to work on a coronavirus response in the appropriate committees to meet the needs of communities across the country. The American people cannot wait because Pelosi wants to hold out for political agenda items to be included in the next response. 

Case in point, earlier this month the speaker, in another show of prioritizing her political agenda over addressing the pandemic, refused to allow a vote on PPP extension legislation. I joined a bipartisan group of more than 150 members in signing onto a discharge petition that sought a vote on H.R. 8265. This straightforward bill would have extended the PPP program using the $130 billion in already appropriated but unspent funds. Instead, Pelosi has repeatedly blocked this bill, which would immediately help small businesses and workers.

Congress delivered with the PPP earlier this year, and small businesses need to remain a priority going forward. Provisions providing liability protections for employers who create safe work environments, like my bill, the Coronavirus Relief and Economic Recovery Act, should also be included. These measures are appropriate because they invest taxpayer dollars in the ongoing economic recovery and get folks safely back to work.

Right now, our country needs collaboration and bipartisanship from the federal government. Prioritizing political agendas over the American people is only deepening the financial and emotional despair millions are experiencing. It is time for Congress to stand up for the people we serve, not for the politicians using this crisis to achieve their goals.

Tim Burchett represents Tennessee’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives