December 9, 2020 - Issue: Vol. 166, No. 208 — Daily Edition116th Congress (2019 - 2020) - 2nd Session
Coronavirus (Executive Calendar); Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 208
(Senate - December 09, 2020)
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[Pages S7293-S7294] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] Coronavirus Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, March 23--March 23 has been a long time from this date, and a lot of things have happened in America since March 23. Over 200,000 American lives have been lost. Millions of Americans have been infected with the COVID virus. Our families have changed. Our lives have changed. We have tried to adjust to the worst pandemic America has seen. We know that we have fallen short many times in providing the resources that were needed in a timely way. I can remember in the early stages of this pandemic when in my State of Illinois there were desperate phone calls from the Governor asking if I could find some way to help, in Washington or any other place, to provide protective equipment for the people in the healthcare field. We know as well that many people have seen businesses close in their communities. In my hometown of Springfield, IL, our favorite restaurant is clinging to its business life, and we are finding excuses to order food out as often as possible to keep them open. Others haven't been so lucky. Their businesses are closed, and their jobs have disappeared. Millions of Americans are drawing unemployment. Many are waiting in long lines for food. Desperate decisions are being made because people are in desperate circumstances. A lot has happened since March 23. The reason I mention that date is that was the day we passed the CARES Act. It was a momentous, historic effort--$3 trillion to try to rescue this economy, to help the American people through this crisis, to provide resources that were needed--and it was overwhelmingly bipartisan. It passed the Senate by 96 to 0. Since then, many things have happened. We have also learned that the CARES Act was not enough. We thought this crisis would end long ago, and it didn't. Perhaps now with vaccines coming online, we will see some dramatic changes in the few months ahead, but what are we going to do in the meantime? Are we going to continue to help those drawing unemployment? Are we going to continue to help the businesses that are struggling to survive and to help their employees make it through another week or another month? Are we going to do what is necessary to help State and local governments that have seen losses in their revenues in historic terms? Are we going to take care to provide the logistical support for the actual vaccinations that are necessary across America? That question is unanswered because we have done nothing--virtually nothing--since March 23. A group of Senators several weeks ago met for a socially distanced, safe dinner at one of the homes of my colleagues and talked about another approach--a new approach, a bipartisan approach--to try to deal with COVID relief. If the leaders were unable to act, perhaps we could start the conversation. I signed up for that effort with a number of Republican Senators and Democratic Senators, and we set out to write a COVID relief bill--with our staff's help, of course. I didn't realize what I was getting into in terms of time commitment. We have spent literally hour after hour after hour, day after day after day--multiple times in a day sometimes--dealing with the difficult issues of what America needs now in emergency relief because of this COVID-19 crisis. We have come to a general conclusion on all but one issue as to what we would propose, and we believe it should be done quickly. You see, on December 26, 12 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance. Businesses struggling now will close between now and then if we don't do something. Unfortunately, the speech given by the Republican leader on the floor this morning suggests that whatever we came up with and proposed is not going to be taken seriously. That is unfortunate. I think there is real wisdom, bipartisan compromise in our proposal. It is within the power of the Republican leader to call this matter to the floor, and that is all we ask. Make it subject to amendments, if you wish, but let's get this debate underway. This silent, empty Chamber is no answer to the cries of American people who are desperate for help in the midst of this pandemic. Political posturing and press releases from one side or the other won't put food on the table, won't give a father peace of mind, won't give a mother the help she needs with childcare, won't give a student the broadband service they need to continue their education. There is an issue that still is unresolved, and it is the issue of liability. We don't know what to do with that, but we ought to look at the evidence. So far in this calendar year, with 15 million people infected with COVID-19, fewer than 3 lawsuits per State--3 per State-- have been filed in medical malpractice or consumer personal injury claims. There are a lot of other lawsuits between businesses and with insurance companies--by prisoners in jail saying that their confinement is dangerous to their health, people filing lawsuits against Governors for issuing orders to stay at home and close down businesses--but when it comes to the personal injury claims, there are very few. Very few. We know why--those of us who have been involved in the practice of law. One of the things that you have to prove to recover in a case is causation. That is rare in a case dealing with coronavirus, to be able to pinpoint exactly when you became infected and what the circumstances are. That is why so few lawsuits have been filed. The Senator from Kentucky is insisting that there be immunity to liability as part of any agreement. It is a thorny topic, a difficult topic, a controversial topic, but I plead with him to hold to another day the overall issue of liability. Accept this emergency bill that we have put together as a bipartisan group of Senators to address this issue in the reality of the world we live in. To hold it back because of some other major issue that has not been resolved is unfair to American families and workers and students and health workers. We owe it to them to do everything in our power to help them now. How can we in good conscience go home for Christmas knowing that the day after Christmas, 12 million Americans will see their unemployment insurance disappear because of our inability to act? What kind of spirit is that of any holiday season? I think we need to be mindful of the fact that there are a lot of helpless people counting on us to do something. I hope we realize that this bipartisan effort put together by a group of Senators, which I have been honored to be part of, is a good-faith effort to answer the basic questions of what is needed now in America and what is needed on an emergency basis. It is a good bill--far from perfect. It deserves a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate. If Senator McConnell has another proposal that he wants to put on the floor as well, he certainly has that right as the majority leader, but to close the door on this bipartisan effort is to reject a good-faith undertaking by Senators from both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans. I plead with the majority leader, let's not claim some political victory when this is all over at the expense of a lot of helpless people across America who are battling this pandemic I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll. [[Page S7294]] The senior assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll. Mr. HAWLEY. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.