Despite a broad consensus that more relief is desperately needed, for months congressional leaders and the White House have been trapped on a merry-go-round of negotiations that have led only to one stalemate after another. Millions of struggling families watched as Washington dysfunction hijacked a debate with their lives and livelihoods at stake.
We’re proud to work across the aisle to solve the most pressing issues facing our nation, even though it has subjected us both at times to criticism from people in our own parties who would rather smear the other side than get things done. At a moment like this, with millions of Americans getting sick or losing their jobs, we felt the stakes were simply too high to allow partisan warfare to prevent us from delivering relief to the people of Maine, Virginia and all of America.
So we began quietly reaching out to like-minded colleagues to explore ways to break the partisan logjam among party leaders. Out of the public eye and off TV, we worked for two weeks over Zoom and socially distanced pizza dinners to negotiate a compromise on emergency funding that senators from both parties could find a way to support. The result is a bipartisan $908 billion relief framework that, if passed, would help Americans at least get through the next four months as vaccine manufacturing and distribution ramp up. The process, too, can serve as a template for progress on other difficult but vital issues in our closely divided Senate.
The framework includes money for small-business loans and another round of much-needed PPP funds, targeted to those small businesses that are suffering most due to covid-19, such as restaurants and live entertainment venues. It will provide $35 billion to help health-care providers struggling under the weight of a record number of cases and hospitalizations, and billions more for testing, contact tracing and vaccine distribution. It also provides billions for rental assistance and unemployment benefits for Americans who have found themselves jobless through no fault of their own, and it relieves student borrowers by allowing them to continue deferring federal loans.
It includes $160 billion to keep state and local governments from laying off teachers, first responders and sanitation workers in the middle of the pandemic, as well as funding for broadband, education, nutrition, agriculture, airlines, motor coaches, Amtrak and mass transit. It also invests in the low-income and minority communities that have been hardest hit by covid-19 by setting aside funding for community-based lenders that have a demonstrated history of getting capital into underserved communities, with the goal of staving off a wave of Black and Latino business closures.
The total package of $908 billion is much smaller than the $2.2 trillion sought by Democrats in the House, and much larger than the $500 billion plan Republicans put on the floor in October. Our package is a common-sense compromise that includes the best ideas from both Republicans and Democrats and focuses on areas where there is consensus.
We fully acknowledge that parts of this agreement — as well as items not included — will be difficult pills for some senators in both parties to swallow. But the cost of inaction is higher if millions of American families are forced into the holiday season wondering whether they will be able to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads.
At a moment like this — as intensive care units are flooded with desperately sick patients, restaurant workers wonder how they are going to survive the cold weather ahead and parents are forced to send their children to bed hungry — it would be both foolish and heartless not to do something. We believe this compromise is necessary to provide urgently needed relief to the American people ahead of what will be, according to all the experts, a long and difficult winter.
Inaction at this critical juncture would be a self-inflicted wound from which our country would take years to recover.