WASHINGTON — Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) has been one of the leading proponents of the more than $1 trillion economic rescue package pending in the Senate in response to the coronavirus, and has helped craft a major piece of the plan.
Meanwhile, his Democratic counterpart from the state, Sen. Bob Casey, is calling for sweeping government intervention, with unusual (especially for him) flourishes. “If you have COVID-19, you shouldn’t pay a goddamn dime for treatment," he told reporters last week.
New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is one of the top Democrats working on the package, and his home-state colleague, Sen. Cory Booker, has pushed for provisions aimed at aiding individuals, people in prison, and low-income and minority communities.
The Senate bill was stalled Monday as Democrats and Republicans sharply clashed amid an escalating crisis. Democrats blocked a key procedural step Sunday night and again Monday as they called for more limits on how businesses can use the vast sums of aid, pushing to restrict stock buybacks or using the money to increase executive pay, and to include more aid for individual Americans. Republicans accused them of holding up vital emergency aid while seeking a liberal wish list.
Here is what senators from Pennsylvania and New Jersey have said about the package, and what they have pushed to include. Aides to all four said they have practiced social distancing and have not been tested or required testing for the virus, despite the positive test by fellow senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.).
Pat Toomey (R., Pa.): ‘War Footing’
It might be surprising to see Toomey at the forefront of an economic relief package that will cost more than $1 trillion, including aid to businesses and direct payments to individuals. The fiscally conservative senator has long criticized government intervention in markets, and blasted the rescue packages that followed the 2008 financial crash.
As a key member of the Senate Banking Committee, however, Toomey has been part of a small team of senators that has drafted several key provisions, including $425 billion in loans to help larger businesses weather an economy that has ground to a halt. He has been a vocal figure pushing the bill. He started Sunday on Meet the Press and ended it on the Senate floor expressing dismay and anger that Democrats had blocked the package. He was back on CNBC Monday morning.
Toomey said this situation is very different from the 2008 financial collapse.
“This crisis that we’re facing is not the fault of a business that didn’t plan well or didn’t run its business well. I don’t think of this as bailouts in the sense that someone is getting rewarded for their bad behavior,” Toomey told reporters on a conference call last week. “This is more akin to an invasion and our society going on a war footing to fight off this pathogen.”
The loan program Toomey has helped write would direct aid to businesses with more than 500 employees to help pay their expenses. The loans would have to be paid back and would be overseen by the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve, he said. Unlike more controversial pieces of the bill, this fund would be open to nearly all businesses and aid would be publicly disclosed, Toomey said.
He has also worked on provisions to aid small businesses and expand unemployment benefits, his office said. He has aggressively pushed the overall package and blasted Democrats Sunday night for stalling it.
“Men and women are beside themselves. They’re terrified because they know they still have to put food on the table. They still have to pay the rent or a mortgage,” Toomey said on the Senate floor. "I mean, literally, the bottom has fallen out. It is going away, and that is enormously devastating to the people we represent.”
Toomey, the region’s only Republican senator, was asked on Meet the Press Sunday about President Donald Trump’s role in communicating to the public, and veered toward praising Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials at the forefront of the federal response.
As for Trump, he said, “His message has changed as our understanding of this has changed and sometimes it’s been better than other times. I think more recently it’s generally been better.”
Bob Casey (D., Pa.): Cover 'every penny’ for health
Democrats have had less direct influence over the package in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority, but lawmakers like Casey have made clear what they think should be included.
“In this crisis, nobody should go broke or suffer financially because of the cost of treating COVID-19,” Casey said, calling to expand Medicaid to cover “every penny” for people who lack health insurance or have insufficient insurance.
Casey said the aim is to ensure that everyone who needs treatment gets it to stop the spread of the virus.
“We should just make it free, no questions asked, no red tape, no politician telling us we can’t afford it,” Casey said.
He had a far more pointed view of Trump’s leadership.
“He’s proven himself to be an unreliable communicator. I just want to be blunt about that," Casey told reporters on a conference call. "I don’t know why we can’t hear from the experts.”
Bob Menendez (D., N.J.): ‘Not just big corporations’
Menendez, like Toomey, has had a key seat in the Senate as a member of the bipartisan group negotiating the package. He responded to the GOP criticism on the Senate floor Sunday night.
“This is about making sure that not just big corporations get the monies that they need, but that average working families and individuals get the robust assistance that they need to get through this period of time,” Menendez said.
Cory Booker (D., N.J.): Aid for individuals
Booker, the former mayor of Newark and former presidential candidate, has argued for provisions that would aid low-income and minority communities. He has joined a number of Democrats in pressing to increase direct payments to individuals to $2,000 for every adult, child, and non-child dependent.
Among his other proposals are a temporary ban on bank overdraft fees, increased aid to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a call for the federal Bureau of Prisons to allow free phone calls and videoconferencing for inmates, since in-person visits have been canceled.
“Millions of hardworking Americans have been thrown into financial insecurity because of this unprecedented global pandemic,” Booker said in a statement about the bank fees. “For these individuals, and those vulnerable before the outbreak, one $35 overdraft charge can lead to financial free fall. ... Worse, such fees fall on those least likely to be able to afford them.”