The U.S. Senate voted on March 18 to approve a second bill responding to the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and President Donald Trump signed the legislation later the same day. Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley were part of the 90 to 8 bipartisan majority that approved final passage of the bill. But first, Iowa's senators supported a Republican amendment to remove mandatory paid sick leave from the bill the U.S. House approved late last week.
The paid leave provisions are complicated, so I've enclosed below a staff summary that Grassley's office released along with his statement. House Democrats wanted to establish a permanent paid leave program, but Republicans insisted that the provision expire after one year.
When the Senate debated the bill, Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington offered an amendment to strengthen the paid leave provisions and make some of them permanent. Like most legislation in the U.S. Senate, the amendment needed a super-majority of 60 votes to pass. Murray's amendment failed on a party-line vote (roll call), with all 47 Democrats in favor and all 51 Republicans present voting against it.
A short while later, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin offered an amendment to remove the mandatory sick leave language, or in his words, "to eliminate job-killing paid leave mandates and instead expand eligibility for unemployment insurance to those who aren’t able to earn a paycheck due to coronavirus." Two Democrats joined most of the Republicans--including Grassley and Ernst--to support taking paid leave out of the bill, while three Republicans joined the rest of the Democratic caucus to reject the effort (roll call).
Official statements released by Iowa's senators hailed passage of the bill, including the paid sick leave provisions, while not mentioning their unsuccessful attempt to replace paid leave with other kinds of payments to workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
P.S.- Earlier on March 18, Grassley joined Trump's disgraceful bid to rebrand the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus." Here's what Grassley posted on his widely-read Twitter account:
I don’t understand why China gets upset bc we refer to the virus that originated there the ”Chinese virus” Spain never got upset when we referred to the Spanish flu in 1918&1919
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) March 18, 2020
Democratic State Representative Karin Derry was among the many people who objected to Grassley's tweet. She linked to a Washington Post article that explained why "Spanish flu" was an inaccurate moniker.
Speaking to Iowa reporters on a conference call this morning, Ernst neither backed up nor condemned Grassley. Stephen Gruber-Miller reported for the Des Moines Register,
"I don’t want to call it one thing or another. It’s the coronavirus. We’re focused on COVID-19, so we can just call it that. This is important, folks. We need to focus not on what do we call this. We know what we call it. It’s coronavirus. And we need to focus on the very human element of this virus and the fact that it is affecting so many Iowans and Iowa communities, our small businesses right now,” Ernst said.
Asian-Americans across the country are dealing with a wave of racist animus. Politicians should not feed into that dynamic by encouraging people to think of COVID-19 as a "Chinese" malady.
Staff summary of the paid sick leave provisions in the bill:
March 18 news release from Senator Chuck Grassley:
Grassley: More Relief on the Way, All Must do Their Part
Washington – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) issued the following comments on Congressional work responding to the novel coronavirus. The Senate today passed the bipartisan Families First Coronavirus Response Act and it is now on its way to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
“The second phase of help is now on its way to the American people. We received this legislation yesterday and sent it to the president’s desk the very next day. In this package, we increase both paid sick leave and paid family leave to ensure people can stay home to stop the spread of coronavirus, as well as ensure that these measures are funded so employers across the country don’t run into cash flow problems that threaten their businesses.
“But the first two phases of help are just the start. In the Senate, we’re continuing to build a phase three package. In the coming hours and days, task forces will be presenting and combining plans that will help working Americans, their families and the most vulnerable, as well as businesses of every size and American industries most disrupted. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m leading the tax policy task force and I’m also working on the health policy task force. Legislation will respond to the public health crisis and the economic impact of the coronavirus.
“Leader McConnell is absolutely right to keep the Senate in session and working until we can deliver more relief. While Congress is at work doing its part in this trying time, it’s also up to the people to do their part to stop the spread of this virus. Follow the CDC guidelines. Listen to local health officials. Exercise social distancing and go above and beyond with cleaning and handwashing.
“Throughout history, Americans have risen to the occasion when confronted with crisis. I’m confident this time will be no different. It’s up to each and every American to fight the spread of this deadly virus. Countless lives depend on it.”
A summary of the phase two response legislation H.R. 6210, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, can be found HERE.
Grassley is leading the Republican task force developing tax- and economic relief-related proposals for phase three of the legislative response to the coronavirus. As soon as those proposals have been agreed on and drafted, they will be released publicly.
March 18 news release from Senator Joni Ernst:
Ernst-Supported Bipartisan Package Delivers Relief for Iowa Families, Workers, and Seniors; Bill Heads to President’s Desk
WASHINGTON – Following her vote in favor of the bipartisan relief package for Iowa families and workers, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) issued the following statement:
“It’s going to take all-hands-on-deck to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which is why we are working at a rapid pace in the Senate, across the aisle, to get immediate relief for our families, our workers, and our small businesses impacted by COVID-19,” said Senator Ernst, a member of the Senate Small Business Committee. “We’ve already provided additional resources to our federal, state, and local partners and health officials through the first bipartisan package. Now, today, in phase two, we’re ensuring relief specifically for families, workers, and seniors across our nation, by addressing the issue of paid sick leave, free COVID-19 diagnostic testing, and additional nutrition support for our children and our seniors.
“But of course, there is much more we need to do and that’s why I’m fighting hard for Iowans and working with my colleagues – Democrats and Republicans – on the third phase of relief, much of which will focus on support and resources for our small businesses, like so many across our state who are facing tough decisions during this difficult time.
“Having served in the military for more than twenty years, I believe that in times like these – with the unprecedented pandemic we’re facing– this is the time to lead from the front. Congress has an obligation and a duty to the American people to show leadership in this challenging time. From all levels of government to every single Iowan, we all play a role in helping mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Together, we will get through this.”
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides for emergency paid sick leave for workers impacted by COVID-19 and provides additional emergency family and medical leave for individuals who need to care for a child at home due to school or child care closures. Businesses will be fully reimbursed for wages through a 100% federal tax credit. The bill also helps vulnerable Americans, including seniors and children, access vital nutrition and food during this difficult time. Also included are provisions to ensure that Americans have access to free COVID-19 diagnostic testing when their doctor says a test is needed.
To learn more about Senator Ernst’s discussions at the State Emergency Operations Center this weekend, click here.
To watch Senator Ernst discuss the need to work together – at federal, state, and local level – to tackle COVID-19, click here.
To read Senator Ernst’s column on everyone doing their part to protect seniors and fellow Iowans from COVID-19, click here.
For more resources and information on COVID-19, you can visit Ernst’s website here.