Among the many priorities left to be accomplished this Congress, none is more important than renewing the Paycheck Protection Program. It should have happened this summer. It needed to happen this fall. Enough is enough. Let’s get this done.
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging across the nation. State and local governments are responding with a variety of public health measures aimed at dealing with this reality. We can debate those measures, but what cannot be debated is that when the combination of government action and the realities of a public health pandemic wreak destruction, we need to act.
This is what we were able to do on a bipartisan basis in March. The Paycheck Protection Program ended up being the single most integral part of the COVID-19 response package. The program succeeded in “helping smaller firms withstand sharp revenue declines during the shutdown and keeping workers connected to their employers,” as the left-leaning Brookings Institution put it, but congressional inaction allowed PPP to expire in August.
Instead of passing a new round of PPP relief and throwing these businesses a lifeline in the process, Democrats calculated that sitting on their hands and denying Republicans a perceived victory would be better for their political fortunes.
Not only did their behavior backfire politically, as Republicans made surprising electoral gains in the House, it also left countless small businesses vulnerable and more Americans without jobs.
American workers are not simply a bargaining chip to be played when politicians like Speaker Pelosi need “leverage,” to use her chosen word. And yet as we stare into the abyss once again, Democratic leaders appear unwilling to provide a new lifeline to our small businesses and their employees.
There are only two plausible explanations for their reckless obstruction.
First, they do not believe support for small business is necessary. Recent headlines make clear that anyone who buys this is delusional:
“[Seven] months into the pandemic, small business owners don’t know how much longer they can hold on.”
“Small-Business Failures Loom as Federal Aid Dries Up”
“Covid Is Crushing Small Businesses. That’s Bad News for American Innovation.”
In that case, the only other explanation is that Democrats continue to play politics and use small business owners and employees as leverage for other negotiations. This is not only plausible, but what some of my more sensible colleagues have told me.
This is the way things always work in Washington, but with small businesses going out of business every single day, it must stop. As COVID-19 rates soar in every state, increased public health restrictions are seemingly inevitable. A doctor advising Joe Biden on the coronavirus is pushing for an unthinkable four-to-six-week lockdown. Yet Democrats in Congress will only help small businesses if Republicans agree to a laundry list of contentious policies.
This isn’t just reckless governance. It’s wildly immoral.
We are better than this as a nation.
And let me speak to my Republican colleagues who have expressed concern about America’s rising debts. You are correct. I ran for the Senate in 2010 because of the same concerns, and I am very aware of the impact diverting our future productive capacity toward debt payments will have on our ability to remain a strong and prosperous nation. But that is not relevant to this discussion today.
The coronavirus pandemic has already killed tens of thousands of American small businesses. Many more may not make it through this winter. Millions of people can become detached from the workplace, unable to provide for themselves, their families, and their communities. The long-term structural damage to our economy, our small businesses, and our workers that we face today is unprecedented. Fiscal conservatism is not a suicide pact.
Sen. Susan Collins and I have already submitted the right solution to the problem before us: a streamlined, standalone bill that would provide $250 billion in relief in the form of a second round of PPP funds, partially offset by the existing $130 billion in the account. Such a solution would intentionally exclude other kinds of relief that lack the bipartisan support PPP has enjoyed since it was first formulated.
Senate Democrats unanimously voted against this proposal in the fall, but they will soon have another chance to do the right thing.
With winter fast approaching and coronavirus cases once again surging, American small businesses are going to be forced to fight for their lives, far more even than they did this summer and fall. Any politician who sees this crisis as an opportunity for political haggling — and not a matter of the utmost ethical and practical urgency — has forfeited his or her claim to moral authority.
Marco Rubio is the senior senator from Florida and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business Entrepreneurship.
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