March 19, 2020

Video: On Senate Floor, Kaine Lays Out Steps Needed To Keep Families Safe And Protect The Economy During COVID-19 Pandemic

 Video of Kaine’s speech: https://timkaine.app.box.com/s/kfbiksdlvhtp2kbmgzocaco5ysb9u6od

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered a floor speech outlining the next steps Congress and the Trump Administration must take to combat the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dislocation resulting from it.

“We need to overcome the shockingly poor start to testing Americans for the virus. Testing helps us flatten the curve of the infection so that our health system is not overwhelmed. And it also helps reduce anxiety by giving people information about their status so that they know what to do. Americans are used to being tested. If we feel ill, we go to a doctor, we get a test to see if we have the flu. We get a test to see if we have pneumonia. We get our children tested to see if they have strep throat. We’re used to this. And when we see it happening around the globe and when we hear the President and Vice President say ‘everybody will get tested,’ but people call their health care providers and are told that there are no tests or see drive-through testing sites such as ones we had in Hampton Roads shut after a day and half because they ran out of tests, it tremendously raises their anxiety,” Kaine said. “We need to continue the good work that’s already being done to accelerate the development of a safe and effective vaccine. We need to make sure that our hospitals and health providers have the resources that they need to treat sick people and protect their front line health workers.”

“I believe that the focus of an economic package should be workers and small businesses. They are the most vulnerable to the current challenge, and most in need of intervention. This is the message that I’m hearing again and again as I talk to Virginia residents and business leaders,” Kaine continued.

“I support direct cash payments to low- and middle-income Americans and their dependents to help them through this crisis. It’s nice to hear there may be some agreement on that. I support strategies to provide grants and loans to small businesses, particularly if they use those resources to keep employees on the payroll. I hope direct support to individuals and small businesses will be the heart of the economic package that the Senate and the White House and the House put together,” Kaine said.

Kaine has cosponsored bills to support workers and families affected by the pandemic and called for immediate payments to low and middle-income Americans to help them weather the economic fallout. Kaine has also urged the Trump Administration to better protect Americans, including by addressing the safety of seniors and people with disabilities and protecting workers in the hospitality and tourism industry.

Kaine’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

I rise to address our nation’s response to the Covid-19 virus.   In particular, I want to discuss the next steps we need to take at the federal level to deal with the health emergency and severe economic dislocation resulting from it.

I applaud the bipartisan work done by Congress and the White House to pass two important laws in the last two weeks.   We passed a supplemental appropriations bill providing more than 8 billion dollars to invest in our public health response with resources for states, territories and tribes, investments in vaccine development and testing and other key health priorities.   And just yesterday, we passed a second piece of legislation to provide emergency relief to workers and their families—paid sick leave, extended unemployment insurance and other measures.

But we still have so much more to do.   I offer these thoughts as a former Mayor and Governor who has overseen emergency response efforts in my city and state—hurricanes, floods, mass shootings, the H1N1 epidemic, the economic collapse of 2008-9.     While those give me a perspective on what must be done, I acknowledge that the current challenge is a massive one, arguably bigger than any I have seen in my life.    Because it is so big, it will require unusual degrees of innovation and cooperation.

So let me offer these recommendations for the road ahead:

First, in the words of the Hippocratic Oath, do no harm.    The Administration lost 6-8 weeks in responding to this crisis, time that was used productively by other nations, because the President continually downplayed the threat of Covid-19.   Whether this was due to ignorance or a political desire to hide bad news is irrelevant.   I was shocked that the President submitted a budget to Congress on February 10—when the virus’s global spread was clear to all—that dramatically cut funding for our key public health agencies—NIH, CDC, HHS--and our investments in global partnerships like the WHO.   The White House foolishly eliminated the global health security team at the National Security Council that was set up after the Ebola crisis to deal with pandemics like Covid-19.   And I remain stunned that the President’s lawyers are still in courts all across this country attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take health care away from millions of Americans.   There is never a good time to take an axe to the public health infrastructure and scheme to take people’s health care away.   But there is surely no worse time to do these things than during a pandemic.

So my recommendations here are simple.   Quit lying and downplaying this threat.   Let the trusted scientists and public health leaders in your Administration take center stage.   In recent days, the President seems to have adopted this approach and it is long overdue.   Congress should ignore the President’s Budget that urged cuts to our public health infrastructure.   And the Administration should cease efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act.  

Second, continue to focus first and foremost on managing the public health crisis presented by Covid-19.   The economic dislocation is significant and will need targeted intervention, as I will discuss in a minute.   But no economic intervention will work if the American public continues to lack confidence in our public health response.   And a strong public health response that will effectively manage the spread of the virus and coordinate medical care for those affected will be the single best strategy for enabling the economy to get back on track.

To accomplish this goal, we need to have strong policy at the federal level to make science-based recommendations on the extent and timing of social distancing guidelines.   We need to overcome our shockingly poor start to testing Americans for the virus.   Testing helps us “flatten the curve” of infection so that our health system is not overwhelmed.   And it also helps reduce anxiety by giving people information about their status so they know what they need to do.   We should continue the good work already being done to accelerate the development of a safe and effective vaccine.  We need to make sure that our hospitals and health providers have the resources they need to treat sick people and protect frontline health workers.    And finally, our federal policy-makers should try to develop the science-based criteria that will enable them to confidently tell Americans when it is time to return to normal social and economic activity.    That day is likely many weeks, or even months away.    But developing the criteria that we can agree should be the signal for a return to relative normalcy is something that we should be working on right now.

Third, make full use of state and local governments.   Polling shows that Americans are skeptical about what they hear about this virus from the President.   But they do have trust in how state and local officials are handling this crisis.   Use the network of state and local officials to communicate clear messages.   Continuously seek their input on how their schools, hospitals, nursing homes and local economies are affected.  That’s what I am doing every day—conference calls with leaders around Virginia to make sure we are doing the most helpful things.   Reality test legislation with these leaders to make sure it is responsive to the real needs they are seeing on the ground.

Fourth, Congress needs to move promptly to pass a strong economic package backstopping the American economy from being ravaged by Covid-19.    In 2008, structural issues like the accumulation of debt, bad public policy leaving huge swaths of economic transactions unregulated, and predatory mortgage practices helped bring down the global financial system.   Today, the American economy had been performing relatively well and is now laboring under a severe health care shock.   There is reason to believe that, once we get the health care strategy right, we will be poised for the economy to resume its upward trajectory.    But we must provide protection and support in the meantime.

I believe that the focus of an economic package should be workers and small businesses. They are the most vulnerable to the current challenge and most in need of intervention.   This is the message that I am hearing again and again as I talk to Virginia residents and business leaders.   I support direct cash payments to low and middle-income Americans and their dependents to help them through this crisis.     And I support strategies to provide grants and loans to small businesses, particularly if they use those resources to keep employees on their payroll.

For the larger businesses and industry sectors who need federal help, we must be ready to assist.   But if we are to invest in these businesses yet again, a few years after providing them massive unnecessary tax breaks, we must not simply rescue them but demand they reform.  And our investments must be designed to keep workers on payrolls to the maximum extent possible.   The Business Roundtable, an influential voice for the business community, said last year that businesses need to expand their priorities beyond shareholder concerns and invest in employees by compensating them fairly, providing important benefits, and supporting the communities they work in. I couldn’t agree more. These businesses employ many Americans and deliver us important goods and services, but if American taxpayers are stepping in to cover their losses, I think it’s fair to expect (and indeed require) that these businesses channel the benefits toward people who work for wages and salary, not those who live off investment income. I will do all I can in the coming days to help shape our economic response package to meet these goals.

Fifth, this crisis raises long-term issues that must be addressed going forward.   We have to have real discussions about the virtues and disadvantages of global interconnectedness.   Better travel leads to economic growth and better understanding of the world but also facilitates the spread of disease.   Instantaneous global communication networks are an economic plus but increase vulnerability to cyberattack.  How do we increase American resilience to these threats without inhibiting our economic prospects?   There are elements of our supply chains—pharmaceuticals and medical products for example—that must be viewed through a national security lens and progressively brought back to this country to enhance safety and adequate supply in times like these.

A second long-term question—that has been raised for years by my Virginia colleague Senator Warner—deals with the new reality of how Americans work.   Many of the people most affected by this shock will be part-time and gig workers.   The safety net mechanisms that our policies provide for full-time workers who get a W-2 every year are not as available to the increasing percentage of the American workforce who are in multiple part-time jobs without benefits, or who work as independent contractors or are otherwise self-employed.   In addition to making sure that our economic relief package provides assistance to this large group of Americans, we have to examine our workforce policies so that those workers also have a social safety net to fall back on during times of crisis.

Finally, every American needs to do their part to confront this crisis.   The only way to slow the spread of Covid-19 and minimize its impact to individuals, to our health care system and to the economy as a whole is to adhere to science-based social distancing and personal hygiene recommendations in our everyday lives.   Because America is not an authoritarian nation, there are some options used by other nations that will likely not be used here.    Our public health measures will depend upon the cooperation and adherence of every single person.   Sacrifice is hard, but a modest sacrifice in the near term can help save the lives of people we love.     So I implore every American to follow the recommendations we get from our public health officials and find ways to safely reach out to friends and family during this challenging time.

And to my colleagues: We must rise to meet this challenge — the people we serve are relying on us to calmly and promptly address a grave health crisis with the tools needed to keep their families safe and backstop our economy.   It is a serious responsibility.   May we live up to it.

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