In this time of pandemic, days matter for Pennsylvania small businesses, over 60% of which are in danger of closing permanently in the next few months.
That’s why the actions of Congress, and particularly congressional Democrats — who stalled the replenishment of the COVID-related Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fund for almost two weeks — were so disheartening to witness, both as a business owner and a consultant for businesses and nonprofits who are struggling to stay afloat.
Weeks ago, it was clear that funds were running low for Congress’s $349 billion PPP fund, which had received far more applications than it could support — highlighting its appeal in offering emergency loans to businesses with under 500 employees (which would be turned into grants for payroll-related expenses).
Senate Republicans proposed that the Senate do the simplest thing: replenish the funds quickly by unanimous consent, to get the emergency program topped off, without adding any changes or uncertainty for pending loan applicants. After all, Congress had already approved of and passed the program. Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, balked, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, showcasing a freezer full of boutique ice creams, followed suit, demanding money for expanded welfare programs and state and local finances over an easy resolution to refund the PPP.
And where was Pennsylvania’s senior senator, Bob Casey, during all this? Posting selfies, tweeting vague statements, and blasting Trump’s response to the coronavirus — but not bothering to publicly tell Schumer to break the deadlock on funding the PPP program.
The money dried up, applications stalled, and businesses scrambled to secure any remaining funds. This week, after nearly two weeks of deadlock, Congress finally moved, with the two sides meeting in the middle and the Senate passing a $320 billion extension for the PPP program.
And where was Pennsylvania’s senior senator, Bob Casey, during all this? Posting selfies, tweeting vague statements (“it didn’t have to be this way” — thanks, senator), and blasting Trump’s response to the coronavirus — but not bothering to publicly tell Schumer to break the deadlock on funding the PPP program.
Who knows how many Pennsylvania jobs have been lost or sacrificed in the weeks of delay caused by Senate Democrats. The most important thing that the Senate could do is prevent total economic collapse in the face of this pandemic — and on this, and so many other issues, Pennsylvania voters should be concerned that Casey seems to be asleep at the wheel.
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Pennsylvania House Democrats were no better. Susan Wild, who replaced moderate Republican Charlie Dent in the Lehigh Valley, fumed over Trump’s name going on the stimulus checks but had no time to publicly tell Pelosi to get the business funds approved. Chrissy Houlahan, a member of the “Problem Solvers Caucus” from Chester County, inched toward doing that, telling “House and Senate Leadership that our community’s small businesses need access to capital, and they need it now,” but not naming the culprits in her official letter on the issue.
Who knows how many Pennsylvania jobs have been lost or sacrificed in the weeks of delay caused by Senate Democrats.
One maverick senator did take it upon herself to distance herself from her party’s stonewalling: Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, who sided with her GOP colleagues in supporting the quickest path toward refunding the PPP, through unanimous consent. Arizonans, and particularly small-business owners in Arizona, are lucky to have her.
It is an interesting and divergent trend in our era that, as partisanship and tribalism grow, more Americans are shedding their party affiliations than ever. We deserve political leaders who are willing to step out of line, show backbone, and break with their parties at times.
Contrast Casey with his junior counterpart, Republican Pat Toomey, who has been pickedto help lead the national task force to reopen the economy, and who has stuck out his neckmore than any other Republican while trying to pass gun legislation to mandate universal background checks. This has been a profile in courage, and he has taken plenty of arrows from the right for his work on gun laws.
What does Casey have to compare with that? He is in his third term serving Pennsylvania in the Senate and is moving at approximately zero miles per hour.
U.S. businesses will face many perils over the coming months. Next time it’s his turn to act, let’s hope Sen. Casey rouses himself to speak up, even if it means inconveniencing Democratic Party leadership.
Albert Eisenberg is a Philadelphia-based political consultant, a co-founder of Broad + Liberty, and a regular columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. @albydelphia
This piece was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer and is reprinted due to our partnership with the publication. Read the original piece here.