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Why Michigan lawmakers disagree over stalled stimulus plan

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed frustration Monday that their parties had yet come to an agreement on an economic stimulus package that's stalled amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Senate Democrats twice blocked a procedural vote on a $1.6 trillion emergency relief bill over the last two days, insisting on greater protections for workers, more money for a state stabilization fund and and limits on bailouts for corporations, among other demands.

Michigan lawmakers expressed frustration their parties had yet to reach an agreement on an economic stimulus package  amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi planning to move forward with her own bill, U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, jumped in his car Monday to drive to Washington with his family in tow. 

He intends to be in the House chamber to object to any attempt by Democrats to adopt their own stimulus package under a fast-track process without the full House in session. 

"We have some issues we need to resolve there," said Mitchell, a member of House Republican leadership.

"I will object to unanimous consent on something that’s solely a speaker-driven bill," said Mitchell, a member of House Republican leadership. "I’m driving back to be there."

"There's a bipartisan effort going on in the Senate. There's been input from the House on that, both Democrats and Republicans, and they were pretty close yesterday before it blew up," he added Monday. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, intends to be in the House chamber to object to any attempt by Democrats to adopt their own stimulus package under a fast-track process without the full House in session.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Lansing Democrat involved in the negotiations, said late Sunday she is prioritizing an "infusion of resources" to support hospitals and health care providers. 

“We are working night and day to come to an agreement on the most effective way to address the overwhelming and immediate needs in this crisis. While the need is urgent, we have to get this right because too much is at stake," Stabenow said in a statement. 

"In addition, any economic package must put the needs of Michigan families, our workers and small businesses first. I intend to stand strong in these negotiations on their behalf.” 

The Senate Republican package includes billions of dollars in aid for businesses struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, $250 billion for unemployment insurance and direct payments of $1,200 to most individuals.

But Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, said what Senate Republicans proposed is "another bailout for corporations" and not enough relief for hospitals and local communities. 

"The relief needs to start with people, not corporations. ... We learned our lesson during the Great Recession with corporations — they hoard it. They don't spend it right away," she added. 

"But I know if I put money back into the pockets of my neighbors, they're going to go spend it at small businesses. They'll keep moving it through the economy, and that is really what is critically important." 

Tlaib has proposed giving a prepaid card loaded with $2,000 to each American that could be recharged with $1,000 a month until one year after the end of the coronavirus crisis.

The freshman lawmaker also wants the House bill to include relief for municipal governments whereby the Federal Reserve would commit to purchasing short-term municipal debt to free up resources for cash-strapped cities responding to the coronavirus outbreak. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Detroit Democrat, said what Senate Republicans proposed is "another bailout for corporations" and not enough relief for hospitals and local communities.

"They need to be able to continue during this time of unprecedented uncertainty to   provide basic services and response efforts," Tlaib said, noting Detroit's current effort to restore water service to customers who had been cut off.

"You constantly heard the Federal Reserve Bank say 'too big to fail' but there are local governments and states that are too important to fail. Depleting their resources would actually cause people's lives to be lost." 

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told Tlaib during a February hearing that the reserve’s emergency lending facilities are limited to financial institutions.

Republican Rep. Bill Huizenga of Zeeland stressed the urgency of reaching a deal quickly as markets tumbled again Monday and the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis said the unemployment rate could reach 30%.

He criticized Democrats for playing politics by floating a "grab bag" of non-coronavirus-related provisions.

"Now is the time to focus on how to combat the COVID-19 crisis, not to use this as a Christmas tree for either spending on pet projects or implementing policy on pet projects," said Huizenga, who sits on the House Financial Services Committee. 

He scoffed at Democrats' opposition to allowing Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to withhold the names of the companies that could receive billions in federal money through a $500 billion package for distressed industries.  

"What are you asking for — to know that on the front end? Heck no. This is way too fast moving," Huizenga said. "And we don't even know all the industries that are in there." 

He stressed that the proposal is to provide the liquidity needed to weather the crisis and that the Treasury Department needs flexibility and discretion to administer the new fund.

There is a difference between the 2008 financial crisis, when Congress bailed out the financial-services industry after "bad decisions and illegal activities," and 2020, when businesses are being told to halt business for the health of society, Huizenga said. 

House Democrats are using their bill to plug what they see as "shortcomings" in the  Senate Republican package by ensuring, for instance, that construction workers be included in the paid sick-time provision and support for residents whose water has been shut off, said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township. 

"My feeling is we need to put forward and pass our own bill that does what we think needs to be done to protect the American people," Levin said.

mburke@detroitnews.com