In Congress, coronavirus mission now turns to preventing mass layoffs

Minority Whip Steve Scalise praises bipartisanship, says imminent goal is keeping businesses cash flush to save jobs.

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Steve Scalise
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise
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Last Updated:
March 19, 2020 - 11:02pm

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    Quarantined because of his own exposure to the coronavirus, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise on Thursday implored Congress to take decisive steps to stop American employers from enacting mass layoffs that could hamper the long-term economy.

    In a wide-ranging interview with Just the News, Rep. Scalise (R-La.), praised the bipartisanship exhibited in Congress during the crisis but said the next round of aid must be focused on preventing a large spike in unemployment that could hamper an economic recovery after the outbreak slows.

    “We don't want to see mass layoffs, where when we get through this, your workforce is gone,” Scalise told the John Solomon Reports podcast. "And then the company can't get back up and running, and those employees are unemployed, instead of being able to get back to work."

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    His comments came as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prepared to unveil a third massive coronavirus aid package, estimated to be worth more than $1 trillion. Its reported provisions included government payments of $1,200 per person and $2,400 for couples.

    Scalise said the first rounds of coronavirus assistance have done a good job focusing on the need to “help families make sure that they're able to make the basic payments while they're not working.” He said the next phase requires helping companies keep enough cash flow to avoid a major spike in unemployment and default on debt, especially small businesses.

    Congress needs to “help those businesses who are trying to make a decision they don't want to lay off the workforce, but they also know they've got a note to pay to the bank and they can't miss that payment" lest they face foreclosure or default, he said.

    Scalise said there are good models from the Katrina hurricane disaster in his home state of Louisiana that could guide Congress and the Trump administration, including giving banks regulatory relief to ignore debt payments on loans for a period of time.

    “Businesses completely shut down,” Scalise said, recalling the aftermath of the ravaging hurricane. “They worked with their banks, FDIC was able to give flexibility to banks to give a 90-day forbearance. So banks were able to work with their customers and say, ‘Okay, I'll float your note.’

    “… So we're working with those agencies to see if we can get that kind of flexibility so that you don't have these immediate deadlines that force you to make decisions you don't want to make with your workforce."

    Scalise also predicted the crisis would long-term move more policymakers toward Trump’s thinking since the 2016 campaign of decreasing reliance on China as a manufacturing partner.

    He said Beijing’s failure to provide visibility into the early outbreak in Wuhan “cost vital days and weeks that the rest of the world is now suffering from” and that recent shortages of medical supplies are also tied to too much American dependency on Chinese manufacturing. “It shows you, you don't want to be so reliant on China that now there are certain medical supplies, we can't get ventilators. So many are made in China that aren't made here. So this is something I think that opens people's eyes more, that might have been skeptical of the president before to say, 'You know what, maybe that's really good policy.'”

    Scalise, a favorite among conservatives, praised Democrats and Republicans alike for setting aside the normal partisan squabbles and passing legislation quickly during the virus crisis.

    “You are seeing people put their big disagreements aside, you know, this is not the time to try to put your big long-term policy issue on this bill,” he said. "This is short-term, to keep the economy together, to keep families together where they don't lose their houses and get kicked out of their apartments."

    The approach needed at a time like this is to "work together to get through it," Scalise said. "And you're seeing that happen. I'm encouraged by that.

    The congressman, who was wounded in a gun attack a few years ago, has been quarantined in his own home since Wednesday night when he learned a fellow lawmaker he had met with had tested positive for the coronavirus.

    As for his own health, Scalise said he was “taking all the precautions but feeling great and still working, just working. You know, working remotely.”