GOP senators pan possibility of quick passage of airline relief

Bonnie Cash

GOP Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Mike Lee (Utah) on Thursday panned the idea of quickly passing another round of aid for airlines, which have warned they will have to lay off tens of thousands of employees.

The two GOP senators argue that any bill that is taken up by Congress should be open for amendments, which would delay any work in the Senate until at least next week. The House has also left town until after the Nov. 3 election. 

“Consideration of legislation providing grants to the airlines should not happen unless there are adequate protections for taxpayers and the opportunity to offer related amendments,” they said in a statement. 

The two GOP senators said airlines, instead of another round of aid, should first apply for loans under the March $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March provided $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees and $25 billion in direct grants to passenger airlines.

“No one wants to see layoffs, but we have a responsibility to ensure that taxpayer resources are used in an appropriate and equitable manner,” Toomey and Lee said. 

The Treasury Department announced late last month that it had offered loans to seven major U.S. airlines, including Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, Hawaiian, SkyWest and United.

But Toomey and Lee, in their statement, argued that other major Fortune 500 companies, unlike airlines, had not gotten taxpayer-funded grants and that it was not “sustainable” to continue to cover carriers’ entire payrolls as they try to recover from the coronavirus, which resulted in a rapid decrease of the number of people flying.

A stand-alone airline aid bill gained steam late last week after American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told employees that the process of furloughing 19,000 employees has started and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told employees they are moving forward with furloughing about 13,000 employees. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on airlines to hold off on furloughs late last week, saying she would move a stand-alone airlines aid bill. But a Democratic bill was blocked on the House floor on Friday. 

Further complicating chances of quick action, the president pulled the plug on a comprehensive coronavirus deal earlier this week, but has since softened his stance to say that he would be open to airline aid, another round of direct checks to Americans and more Paycheck Protection Program funding for small businesses. 

And Pelosi on Thursday said that there wouldn’t be airline aid without a deal on a larger coronavirus relief bill. 

“The comment that I made to the administration last night was we’re happy to review what that stand-alone bill would look like as part of a bigger bill, if there is a bigger bill, but there is no stand-alone bill,” Pelosi told reporters.

–Updated at 1:26 p.m.

Tags Mike Lee Nancy Pelosi Pat Toomey
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