Democrats declared victory early Wednesday morning in their effort to realign the coronavirus relief bill to prioritize workers over corporations, but at least one Republican senator is now claiming that their central purported contribution — greater oversight over $500 billion in corporate relief — was never actually opposed by Republicans.
During a Wednesday conference call, Senator Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) pushed back on Democrats’ claims to have achieved stricter controls on the provision of credit to American big business by delaying for some two days the passage of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.
Senate Democrats blocked a procedural vote to fast-track the legislation on Sunday night, accusing Senate Republicans of turning the $500 billion “Exchange Stabilization Fund” — designed to extend credit from the government to big business — into a “slush fund” by resisting oversight over its allocation. In making their case that Republicans were catering to corporations at the expense of workers, Democratic leadership cited the fact that the original bill did not require Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to disclose the corporate loan recipients until six months after the loans were disbursed.
“We’re gonna give $500 billion in basically a slush fund to help industries controlled by Mnuchin with very little transparency? Is that what we ought to be doing?” Senator Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) questioned.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) added that “we’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends.”
After the standstill was resolved late Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) highlighted Democratic contributions, saying that “Democrats have succeeded in making the bill substantially better on many counts,” and explicitly mentioned “strict oversight, transparency, and accountability of all loans made to corporate America.”
“We need oversight, we need transparency — every loan document will be public and made available to Congress very quickly so we can see where the money is going, what the terms are, and if it’s fair to the American people,” Schumer said, pointing to “an oversight board, as well as an IG, to make sure things are done on the level.”
But Toomey pushed back on that characterization of Democrats’ contributions during the call, telling reporters that in the days of negotiations, allegations that the corporate relief funds lacked oversight were “not a major topic of discussion.” According to Toomey, Democratic leadership didn’t raise the point until after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) flew back to D.C. to advise Schumer’s negotiations.
“I don’t associate any particular Democratic senator on the negotiating team that I was participating with that was mentioning this, I really don’t remember it coming up very much,” Toomey said. “And then Senator Schumer, when he decided to take down the bill, both he and Pelosi had devised this and that’s when I recall this thing emerging. There wasn’t a lot of Republican objection conceptually to this idea, the concern was just that it be properly targeted.”
Toomey added that, prior to Pelosi’s arrival, Republicans were already in agreement on following the approach pioneered by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008, which established a Congressional oversight panel and an Inspector General to review large corporate funding, and it was in fact Democrats who pushed for an “extremely expansive” lending program.
“The governance piece came together pretty quickly, and we thought that rather than the extremely expansive version that our Democrat colleagues were pushing for, we ought to follow the model of the TARP approach, where we would focus on the specific transactions,” he stated. “So it was somewhat narrowed in scope, to what we thought was appropriate, but that really didn’t take all that long.”
A GOP Senate staffer echoed Toomey’s account of the negotiations, saying that while Democrats’ “slush fund” characterization was “way over the top,” Republicans “were a bit uneasy with the amount of discretion that the Treasury had.”
“Republicans were never against oversight of that amount of money, my understanding is that what Schumer and Pelosi were pushing for was a brand-new way of doing oversight that would have encompassed not just the Treasury piece, but the entire administration’s piece,” the staffer told National Review. “The Republican counter was basically like look, there’s a model that you have all supported before let’s just use that model.”
HuffPost appeared to confirm the staffer’s description of events on Wednesday, reporting that Democrats wanted to create panel that would have had sweeping oversight authority over the whole of the administration’s pandemic response, not just the $500 billion allocated to corporations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has also dismissed the notion that Democrats’ stalling tactics resulted in significant alterations to the bill.
“I will leave it to others to compare the bipartisan Sunday bill to the final version we will pass today and determine whether the last few changes really required or merited three days of delay,” McConnell said on the senate floor Wednesday.
Toomey also slammed Democrats for suggesting they were opposed to “bailing out” big business, saying that Democrats “were insisting that we give away money to airlines and never get it back and have no opportunity to get it back,” while Republicans “insisted” it “all had to be paid back.”
“It was really quite a remarkable display, to go down and attack us for what we were not doing, while they were in fact trying to do exactly that which they were attacking us for,” Toomey said. “That was what did take a while, was negotiating how that would work mechanically, exactly what we would do for the airlines, a big Democrat ask was just write them really big checks and make sure they then comply with a bunch of mandates, and we were not comfortable with that.”