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Daines, Tester split on $2T coronavirus 'rescue' package before Senate

Posted at 4:50 PM, Mar 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-23 19:50:41-04

Montana’s two U.S. senators split their votes Monday on the massive economic-stimulus bill to address impacts from the coronavirus outbreak, reflecting the bitter partisan divide that doomed the measure for now.

Republican Sen. Steve Daines, who supported the bill, called it a “rescue package” that required both sides to come together for the good of the country.

“The health and livelihoods of the American people are at risk, they’re in danger,” he said in a floor speech. “We cannot afford to keep squabbling and arguing here in the U.S Senate.

“Time is not on our side. Each day matters … Hours matter. Minutes matter.”

Yet Sen. Jon Tester joined his fellow Democrats in blocking the bill, saying on the floor that the bill does not provide the needed, immediate relief for health-care providers, workers and small businesses.

He especially criticized the bill’s $500 billion fund that would provide loans to businesses and other entities, at the discretion of the Trump administration’s Treasury Department.

“This bill, particularly this slush fund, is not a good use of taxpayer money,” he said. “It would allow an unelected official with no accountability to the American people to dole out $500 billion while hiding the receipts for months, if not longer.”

Tester said senators need to continue to negotiate and compromise, if they want to get a bill passed.

Daines, however, said the bill has plenty of help for workers, small business and health-care providers on the front lines of fighting the virus.

He said it contained $250 billion of unemployment benefits for people who’ve lost their jobs, that will pay an additional $600 a week to workers in Montana. The bill also has money for badly needed protective masks and gloves, and ventilators, as well as money for research to speed development of drugs or vaccines, he added.

“Listen, neither side is going to be happy with the final product – that’s part of negotiation,” he said. “And this Senate bill before us provides for workers, for families, for small businesses and health-care professionals.”

Daines also blasted Democrats for wanting to insert non-economic items into the package, such as new standards for aircraft emissions.
“This obstruction will create a devastating impact on American workers, on families and small businesses,” he said. “(Democrats are) pushing for things that have nothing to do with the public health and the epidemic we’re facing today.”

Tester noted that the $2 trillion in the package is “borrowed money,” which is fine in an economic crisis – but that if the government is going to borrow such a huge amount, it needs to be well-targeted, temporary support to keep the economy going, and not just payments to favored businesses.