In the early hours of March 14, the Families First Coronavirus Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill that would extend employee sick leave benefits, expand access to free testing, and provide $1 billion in food aid to vulnerable Americans, passed swiftly within the house but has been halted in the Senate.
With Republican senators’ concerns about implementing paid sick leave and their attempts to include an anti-choice restrictions into the House’s relief bill, the bill remains unmoved.
The crux of the disagreement about paid sick leave has been pretty consistent over the years: Republicans think these programs force small businesses to cover costs that will be detrimental to their operations. They’ve also generally chafed at any additional government intervention in the way that businesses operate such programs.
The House coronavirus bill, though, accounts for these expenses and includes a tax credit for businesses that offer workers paid sick days. Republicans, however, are continuing to voice objections despite the urgent nature of this legislation and the concessions that have already been made.
At this point, there still isn’t a clear timeline for a Senate vote on the House bill.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) on Sunday tweeted that a vote on the coronavirus bill should take precedence over FISA. “There is no reason for this to take days and days,” he wrote.
Senate Democrats have also made similar arguments. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) urged McConnell to consider passing both measures with unanimous consent over the weekend, a mechanism that enables lawmakers to approve a bill as long as no senators object. Doing so would have meant that lawmakers who’d traveled back to their home states for the weekend wouldn’t have had to return to the Capitol, reducing their potential exposure to the virus.
“Senators and staff are working to serve their states locally as best they can, and with unanimous consent for these measures there is no valid reason to force extra travel this week,” said Durbin. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also criticized McConnell’s decision to leave town for the weekend, instead of working through the coronavirus legislation.
As concerns have grown about the coronavirus outbreak in recent days, the pressure has only increased for Congress to approve legislation that would guarantee workers some financial safety net if they fall ill or aren’t otherwise able to work because of the virus. The House has worked through its deal with Mnuchin and now it’s up to the Senate to pass it.
In the midst of a global and national public health crisis, GOP senators remain true to their party rather than their constituents. Efforts and measures to guarantee the health and safety of Americans should be at the forefront during the outbreak.
With over 4,000 confirmed cases and nearly 80 million jobs at risk as American life is halted, the need to provide a financial safety net to ensure food, treatment and care for everyone throughout the virus spread, is paramount.