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Vote Alert: The ‘gag and vote for it’ small-business-killing coronavirus emergency legislation

Conservative Review

This was a vote on H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act emergency legislation, responding to the coronavirus outbreak by creating a paid sick leave entitlement mandate, providing for free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment welfare benefits, and putting new regulations on employers to provide additional protections for health care workers.

In times of crisis, it may be appropriate for governments to take extraordinary action to protect the people. The purpose of government, as articulated in the U.S. Constitution, is to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Providing for the safety of the American people during this outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus and taking reasonable steps to avert economic catastrophe is a legitimate role for the government.

However, a crisis is not an excuse to hurriedly enact bad policy, abandoning critical thought about the unintended consequences of government action. But that is precisely what happened here, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his fellow Republicans to “gag and vote” for this coronavirus response law. The actions called for in this legislation are bad policy that will have the unintended effect of harming small businesses struggling to survive the current pandemic and economic downturn while borrowing billions of dollars from China to pay for what America cannot afford.

The $105 billion worth of paid sick leave provisions enacted into law by this bill is ill-conceived. Private employers with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide up to 14 total weeks of leave, 12 weeks of which must be paid leave for employees who are necessarily absent from work because of the coronavirus, whether they are sick themselves or caring for someone else who is sick. Big businesses with more than 500 employees are exempt. In principle, any response to the coronavirus must be universal, but this policy is a mandate targeted at small businesses, many of whom will be incentivized to lay people off instead of paying for sick leave they cannot afford. The House of Representatives added tax credits for employers intended to defray the costs of this new entitlement, but small business groups opposed these provisions, arguing the mandates “presume liquidity and a tolerance for debt that simply does not exist at this time.” Businesses with fewer than 50 employees may apply for hardship waivers, but this will impose an additional bureaucratic cost on employers already struggling to meet their overhead costs.

The expansion of welfare policies, including billions of dollars of increased spending on food stamps and unemployment benefits, while intended to help those who cannot work during this crisis, may have the adverse effect of encouraging people not to work. Paying people to stay home will incentivize them to do just that, exacerbating the economic slowdown caused by preventive measures taken against the coronavirus instead of encouraging Americans to get back to work once the panic over this pandemic has ended.

Additionally, offsets to these new record levels of government spending offered by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were rejected by the Senate, ensuring that this bill will be unpaid for and requiring that the United States go further in debt to China, a tyrannical regime whose demonstrated incompetence and dishonesty failed to contain the coronavirus outbreak and caused our present crisis.

Conservatives understand that the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the coronavirus outbreak may require extraordinary measures from the government in response, including policies many conservatives would typically object to. But there is no reason to abandon reason when thinking about which policies will actually help Americans and which will harm us in the long run. This legislation will harm Americans in the long run, and the “gag and vote for it” mentality offered from Senate Republicans is the height of irresponsibility and failed leadership.

The House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 14, 2020 at 12:51 a.m. ET in a roll call vote of 363 – 40.

The Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 18, 2020 at 3:32 p.m. ET in a roll call vote of 90 – 8.

To see how your elected officials stack up or other votes that compose the Liberty Score, view our full scorecard here.

CR position: NO

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