Democrats push for paid leave in coronavirus response

Democrats push for paid leave in coronavirus response
© Greg Nash

Democrats are pushing to include paid sick and family leave as part of any economic response to coronavirus.

The likelihood of enacting at least a temporary paid leave policy went up Tuesday, when President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE mentioned the issue in his list of possible legislative responses at a GOP Senate meeting.

But the details of a paid leave policy remain unclear, and Democratic demands could make Republican support for the policy difficult.

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“People who aren’t getting paid have trouble making rent, have trouble making their mortgage payment. No one should be evicted or foreclosed upon during this crisis. Paid sick days are one of the most important ways we can do that,” Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues Democratic senators urge regulators to investigate Instacart over 'tip baiting' Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-Ohio) said Wednesday.

House Democrats were slated to unveil coronavirus legislation Wednesday with provisions on paid leave, nutrition assistance for kids missing school lunches during closures and covering the costs of testing kits. A later package could deal with longer-term economic issues.

The White House has yet to formalize its own economic response, but President Trump is set to address the nation Wednesday evening to discuss the coronavirus. His top economic adviser, Larry KudlowLawrence (Larry) Alan KudlowMORE, and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Former Rep. Delaney says Trump is spewing venom when he should be leading; Protests roil the nation as fears of new virus outbreaks grow GOP lawmakers plan measure to force Americans to divest from firms linked to Chinese military: report Hillicon Valley: Twitter flags Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence' | Cruz calls for criminal investigation into Twitter over alleged sanctions violations | Senators urge FTC to investigate TikTok child privacy issues MORE met with Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday to strategize.

Rep. Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support Former Texas Rep. Sam Johnson dies at 89 MORE (Texas), the top Republicans on Ways and Means, said the administration was looking at addressing the issue through executive action.

“We discussed with Mr. Kudlow the president’s desire to act quickly to deal with the hourly workers and those who have to stay home and may not have salaries while they are quarantined at home,” Brady said. “There are, I think, strong executive actions that can be taken to address that.”

But Republicans are also concerned about ensuring businesses don’t buckle as outbreak spreads.

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“The way I heard it was aimed at small businesses only,” said Sen. Mike BraunMichael BraunGOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal Republicans introduce bill to create legal 'safe harbor' for gig companies during the pandemic MORE (R-Ind.) after a Tuesday meeting between Trump and GOP senators.

“I like the idea, but I don’t like it as a mandate. And again, if it was aimed only at smaller businesses, I’d consider it,” he added.

Democrats say that while they are open to helping small businesses, paid leave should come first.

“I also feel it’s important to provide relief for these businesses, even beyond the SBA loans,” said Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuHouse Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic MORE (D-Calif.), a Ways and Means member, referencing a plan to provide loans through the Small Business Administration to help companies struggling as a result of the pandemic.

But the priority, she said, had to be on people missing work.

“There are so many people who might not have paid sick leave, and that’s one thing, and others that are in quarantine. They might not be sick, but they need to take leave,” she said.

House Democrats, Senate Republicans and the White House are still haggling over a response package. Democrats excoriated the White House for proposing a temporary payroll tax cut, calling it a handout to big companies that will miss the main economic casualties of the pandemic.

“We don’t think they should just throw money out of an airplane and hope some of it lands on people who have been affected,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerPelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' Is the 'endless frontier' at an end? Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHouse Republican offers bill to create 'return to work bonus' On The Money: Senate Dems pump brakes on new stimulus checks | Trump officials sued over tax refunds | Fed to soon open small-business lending program Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks MORE (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, went a step further.

“What you’re talking about is, in the middle of this huge health challenge ... what they want to do is hit Social Security like a wrecking ball with a massive tax cut to the country’s biggest corporations,” he said. “This will not happen. Period. Full stop.”

Democrats like Ways and Means member Rep. Brain Higgins (N.Y.) are not shy about using the coronavirus response as an opportunity to institute a more permanent, far-reaching policy on paid sick and family leave.

“There’s 32 million Americans that don’t have paid leave and would be reluctant to take days off. That is contrary to what public health officials say we need to do,” he said.

“It’s part of a larger policy objective that Democrats in both the House and the Senate have had, and as you know, these things can sometimes lead to permanent policy changes,” he added.

Republicans are wary of instituting those kinds of broad changes.

“Trying to help people in a variety of ways is fine, trying to use the crisis to expand social programs permanently is not,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse FISA bill suddenly on life support House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting House conservatives voice concerns over minority rights during remote hearings MORE (R-Okla.), the ranking member on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.

On Wednesday, the Senate shot down a bill penned by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee ranking member Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies MORE (D-Wash.) that would require businesses to let all workers accrue at least seven days of sick and family leave, and offer an immediate 14 days of leave in the event of a declared public health emergency.

“Right now, experts are telling people stay home if you’re sick. But for too many people, staying home means losing a paycheck or losing your job, and that has to change and it has to change fast,” Murray said ahead of the vote.

As the outbreak spreads, wreaking havoc on financial markets and small businesses alike, lawmakers have indicated that they are willing to compromise to find a quick solution.

“I have not seen the package. And if it does pass the House, we’ll probably only have 24 hours to look at it,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyRosenstein steps back into GOP crosshairs Is Trump encouraging the world's use of national security as stealth protectionism? Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support MORE (R-Iowa).

But, he added, “I doubt if I would say no just for one reason.”