As the White House and Congress rush to provide aid to businesses and workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse has slammed the proposals as “really dumb.”
Sasse was one of just eight senators who voted Wednesday against a bipartisan aid bill that was subsequently signed by President Donald Trump. The $100 billion bill enhances unemployment insurance, ensures that businesses offer workers two weeks of paid sick leave, increases funding for food assistance programs and guarantees free testing for the coronavirus.
Sasse blasted the measure in a floor speech Tuesday night, saying the plan was rushed and amounted to “shoveling money out of a helicopter.”
“There is a herd mentality around this building right now where a lot of normally smart people are literally saying things like, ‘The most important thing is to be fast,’ even if the ideas that are being advocated for aren’t ready for prime-time and can’t really withstand the scrutiny of debate,” he said.
His spokesperson said Sasse particularly opposed the sick leave requirement as onerous for small business, saying it would kill jobs. An amendment he offered to eliminate the leave requirement and reimburse states for expanding unemployment benefits was rejected.
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said Sasse’s vote showed “he’s not fit for office.”
“Nebraskans are losing their jobs and desperately need help to make ends meet and feed their families,” she said. “Instead of acting like an adult, he chose to ignore the hurt people are facing and turn his back on his responsibilities.”
Sasse acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic is producing some of the worst economic upheaval seen in a generation and said that is likely to last for months. He said he agrees with Trump’s call to take action to ease that impact.
But he said the bill was not well thought out and would “handpick winners and losers.” As Congress moves to send out relief, he said he would push to give more than half the aid to governors to distribute.
“The federal government is going to have to spend real money,” he said. “But saying that we have to spend real money is not the same as saying we should spend like idiots.”
In the end, the measure passed 90-8. The seven senators who joined Sasse in opposition were all Republicans: Jim Inhofe and James Lankford of Oklahoma, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Tim Scott of South Carolina.
Republicans Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Iowa Republicans Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst all backed it.
“The purpose of the federal government is to provide a national response during a national emergency like we are dealing with now,” Fischer said. “It is our job to provide relief and recovery to our people.”
Fischer said she would continue to work on other legislative efforts “to stabilize the economy and provide the relief Americans need.”
Indeed, now Congress is working on an even larger economic stimulus bill pushed by Trump and Congress, one that is expected to spend some $1 trillion on direct cash payments to Americans, aid for small businesses and loan guarantees for industries affected by the downturn.
Sasse has not said how he will vote on that measure. But in his Tuesday speech, he expressed much general skepticism for the current push out of Washington.
“This is not the time for Washington to go on an anything-goes spending spree,” he said.