U.S. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville thinks the relief bill Congress enacted will help in the effort to stop the onslaught of the Chinese virus but that Florida and other places in the nation were harmed by the delay.
Rutherford gave Eye on Jacksonville an insider’s point-of-view rundown on the bill’s passage this week.
He said House members, including those in the minority such as himself, participated in several conference meetings and conference calls intended to get ideas from members before leaving Washington for the Easter recess. There also was White house input, mostly by Steve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary. In addition, they were constantly given updates on different sections and would respond.
“The Speaker (Nancy Pelosi) and her team tried to put a lot of items into this bill, and turn it into a Christmas tree and that was where the delay came from,” Rutherford said.
“That one-week delay was critical,” he said. The money would have been available for the 6.6 million people now out of work, he said.
Rutherford said the strategy was, in the first phase, to beef up the medical services field, pump money in there for starting effort to develop a vaccine and shore up the hospitals.
“Phase two was families, trying to help workers living from paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “They were going to go to work or face financial ruin.”
Sick leave and family medical leave, and unemployment funds were included. “We also had a lot of dollars for elderly and low income families to have access to food. Then parents at home with children.” That was covered by paying for additional time off at 2/3 pay. “We didn’t want people going to work sick,” he said.
The third phase is the CARES Act with payroll protection. The hope is that helping employers hold onto employees will keep them together and avoid huge costs for re-hiring and retraining after the crisis is over.
“We wanted money in the pockets of hard working Americans hit by business shutdowns.”
Small and medium-sized businesses are helped by loans through banks and credit unions that are 100 percent guaranteed by the federal government, he said.
There Is “pork” in the $2.2 trillion bill, Rutherford said, “but not as much as they tried to put in.”
In addition for $25 million for the Kennedy Center and money for the NEA that is in the bill, Rutherford said Democrats tried to put in a new form of the “Cash for clunkers” program of years ago, only this time for airlines.
All of that cost time. “We could have gotten ahead of it” Rutherford said.
Rutherford does not agree with the idea that President Trump delayed action on the problem. “I remind people that Trump closed down travel from China and was criticized. Yet Pelosi was encouraging people to go to Chinatown on Feb. 24.”
Trump also was proven right about a malaria drug being a potential aid against the virus, he said.
Rutherford said, “I love the statement by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’ “
“The reason I quote it is I want people to think about the sacrifices of people around them. We are trying to flatten the curve.”
Thus, some are shutting down their businesses while others are flocking to beaches, he said.
That hit home for him.
“Folks who nonchalantly violate the orders are putting health care workers at risk. My daughter is one of them.”
Rutherford’s daughter is a nurse. Her own two daughters are staying with Rutherford, to keep them from getting the virus via their mother.
On the other hand, he said he did not like jurisdictions that tried to shut down gun shops. But, he said, “What is essential and non-essential is a decision for state and local governments. It should not be made at the federal level.”
The threat of the virus is a matter of public health and Rutherford said, “I think it is a big deal.”