It’s been nearly six months since Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to provide relief after COVID-19 halted life as we know it. As the measures for relief that $2,200,000,000,000 provides expire — and as the heat of the 2020 election intensifies — members of Congress have yet to agree on new legislation to get the American economy running at full power again.
U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., is a part of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus,” whose members on Tuesday released their framework, called “March to Common Ground,” focused on ending the congressional gridlock that has been delaying a new COVID relief measure. Johnson is one of the main architects of the stimulus package framework, which he said he was proud of during a news conference Wednesday.
The main objective of the Problem Solvers Caucus’s stimulus framework is to “inspire negotiators to return to the table,” according to a news release. The framework was developed after six weeks of listening to constituent concerns followed by debate and deliberation from caucus members and stakeholders. Over 75% of the caucus has approved the framework for endorsement.
Johnson is a 1995 graduate of Pierre’s T.F. Riggs High School. He said members of the caucus, which consists of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans, are “frustrated” with the lack of progress on a new stimulus package.
“Our group put aside brinkmanship and political games,” Johnson stated via news release, “Once we focused on what was good for the country, it didn’t take us long to find common ground. This is how Congress is supposed to work.”
The package addresses key areas of need, including COVID-19 testing, unemployment insurance, direct stimulus, worker and liability protection, small business and nonprofit support, food security, schools and child care, housing, election support, and state and local aid.
The framework calls for both new stimulus money and the reallocation of previously appropriated funding from the CARES Act. Resources are allocated as follows: $100 billion for testing and healthcare; $316 billion for direct assistance to individuals and families; $120 billion for unemployment assistance; $290 billion for small business and nonprofit support; $145 billion to schools and childcare centers; $500.3 billion for state and local aid; $400 million for election support; $52 billion for broadband internet, agriculture, the United States Postal Service, and the Census; as well as worker and liability protections. The full breakdown of the framework can be found on the Problem Solvers Caucus’ website at https://problemsolverscaucus-gottheimer.house.gov/.
Roughly $25 billion of the package will go to agriculture and aquaculture producers and processors, whom Johnson said Congress is “not allowed to forget about.”
“As long as I’m here [representing South Dakota in Congress], I’m never gonna forget about agriculture,” Johnson said in a press conference Wednesday.
The framework is designed to last for six months and through the Jan. 20, 2021 presidential inauguration, except for the state and local funding, which extends for a full year.
Depending on the severity of the pandemic and if a successful vaccination program is adopted by March 2021, a system of automatic boosters are designed to incrementally increase the amount of relief to individuals, and a system of reducers will decrease the total cost of the package, according to the press release.
Johnson acknowledged the inevitable increase in the national debt, but said that passing a stimulus package now will save the country money in the long run. He emphasized the need for a “modest, focused, targeted” approach to the problem.
“We need to invest in [constituents’] immediate needs,” Johnson said.
Johnson noted that MTCG is not the only plan, but it provides the country a way to move forward. The plan was recently endorsed by both The New York Times and The Washington Post’s editorial boards, and Johnson said the White House is “pleased” with the plan. He was in regular communication with the White House, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, during the development of the stimulus framework.
“Months of inaction have left too many at the precipice, and principle must overcome politics. Co-leading our working group with Rep. Dusty Johnson has been an inspirational lesson in possibility. A shared mission to support our country and compassion for people transcended divisions in Congress, and is a reminder that unity and trust can overcome anything, even politics,”U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said in a press release. “We’re not the flashiest members of Congress, but we sit at the table, listen to one another, engage in respectful debate and deliberation, and accomplish good work for our country behind the scenes. Congress can be fixed. One friendship at a time.”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Johnson questioned why the “flashier’ members of Congress like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not been able to accomplish anything similar. He said the sense of urgency the COVID-19 pandemic has created and said that Congress does not have the luxury to wait around.
“How come you guys can’t get this done?” Johnson said.
Two Democrats hoping to preserve the swing district House seats they won in 2018 — U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Okla., and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich. — are also caucus members.
“Our communities cannot wait any longer while Washington continues to play partisan games. Oklahoma businesses are closing and our families are struggling to make ends meet,” Horn said.
“During a moment of crisis, our mission in Washington should be clear: help families stay safe and weather the storm of COVID-19,” Slotkin added. We have to continue working across the aisle, regardless of politics, to get help to the people who need it right now. That is what is expected of us, and what the moment demands.”