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Congressional Corner With Joe Courtney

Congressman Joe Courtney

Lawmakers in Washington are sending relief back home.

In today’s Congressional Corner, WAMC’s Alan Chartock speaks with Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney.

This conversation was recorded March 30.

Here we are on the Congressional Corner with our friend, Congressman Joe Courtney, a Democrat, from Connecticut’s second district, a beautiful district indeed, on the water and all the rest, in office since 2007. Joe Courtney, these are troubled times, aren't they?

Yeah, I mean, there's been some pretty rough moments since, you know, I had the honor to take the seat, but this one really seems to take the prize in terms of just, you know, challenging all the bandwidth of government and, you know, our country's private sector and everything else. So, I'm still an optimist. I think, you know, we're going to figure out a way to, you know, overcome this, but it's it's really, a lot of calls coming in from some very anxious, understandably so, small businesses, people trying to file for unemployment. You know, you name it, people overseas trying to get back in the country. It's quite a time.

So how do you handle that? First of all, you will sheltered, right? I mean, you, you are at home, and you are being not stupid. Right? To begin with?

Yes, absolutely. So, again, we, our office is working remotely. You know, my heart and great staff is both in DC and up here in Connecticut, are, you know, taking the calls. There's a rollover mechanism for voicemail to go into email, and turning around as much information as we possibly can. My wife and I did drive down to Washington on Thursday morning, when it became clear that there was not going to be unanimous consent, you know, for passing the Cares act. And that was that one drive.

I'm sorry, Joe, it was just one guy, right? It was just one guy who said, “no, I won't go along with it. OK, unanimous.”

That's right. So, you know, there was no votes, when the voice vote was called. You know, it was just a smattering of people and it was a couple other members who got up and spoke against the bill, but in terms of actually calling for a recorded vote and then challenging the quorum, it was just congressman Massey from Kentucky. And, you know, I have to say both leadership on both sides of the aisle, you know, very humbled. But yeah, we’re furious, but also, I think, really smartly, you know, convene people to come to DC and it was, frankly, pretty impressive. I share a place down in DC with a member from Colorado who caught an 11pm flight out of Denver and, you know, stumbled into the apartment around 3am. And was there you know, in the chamber to help make sure the quorum was met. And this thing got done. It passed about 1:30 in the afternoon, Thursday, and then everybody just scattered. And driving from Connecticut to DC, was about five and a half hours. I mean, it's the traffic was just incredible, you know, how sparse it was. And that shows people really are, you know, being smart about not unnecessary travel and you know, and I was thoroughly you know, pleased that, you know, the notion of some kind of federal quarantine law against one region of the country was scratched. And I think, you know, the three governors from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut stood up for our region to say how incredibly harmful, you know, the President's potential quarantine order would have been in terms of just getting you know, essential goods and products and everything into our part of the country. So, but as I said, you know, the traffic on I-95 was, I've never seen anything like it and I've made that drive a lot.

You know, there was a bit of concern among Democrats, the package the bailout package, would be a bailout for corporations down the way and the 1%. Is it?

So again, the bill that was introduced on Sunday evening by Mitch McConnell, who again, up until that point, had been negotiating with both sides, and then suddenly pulled us people out of the room and then just drafted the bill in isolation was incredibly slanted towards corporations. And, you know, just for example, there was not a penny in that bill for state and local government. I mean, not a penny, given all the, you know, emergency services that not just New York, but I mean, every state now is incurring, plus, you know, the collapse in state revenue that's happening as the you know, the country is going into sort of a self-induced coma and appropriately so to you know, flatten the curve, as we've all heard and gotten familiar with. Again, McConnell’s bill had no assistance for states. And so, you know, between that moment when, you know, Senator Schumer blocked consideration of that bill and took a lot of heat for it. You know, the Fox News and in some of my radio stations, you know, we're blistering the Democrats for blocking consideration of it, but the fact is, is that was a really important moment. And we ended up getting a final product, that he made sure that the corporate emergency loan program is actually gonna have some oversight, and it's not going to be just one person at the Treasury Department, you know, doling out low interest loans to the airlines and others, you know, with some real Inspector General oversight, and but also making sure that the small business piece was improved. Again, McConnell did have some provisions in there for emergency loans and forgivable loans, which is something that I have to tell you, Alan, I mean, the small business folk calling my office are desperate to find out more about that program. But the bottom line is that Schumer and the Democrats made sure that there was also emergency grants for small businesses. Again, there was $150 billion for state and local government there was $25 billion for transit, which again, there was not a penny of that McConnell's bill, so that you know, bus service, subway service, ferry service is now part of the package. Education money for K through 12 systems, which again are, you know, going through a complete shutdown. That was part of the improved bill that, again, was negotiated over the course of really about 48 hours. And lastly, there was new disaster money. Again, Connecticut was declared a disaster yesterday by FEMA. New York had already gotten disaster declaration. Michigan now is getting it. Obviously California, Washington State. Again, because the, the slowdown and I use that term, you know, because it was a 48 hour slowdown was really a speed bump. That, you know, there was a an ability there to get more money for disaster relief, 30 billion new dollars that between what McConnell had and the 45 billion final number, which was in the Cares act when it was sent to the President's desk, again, as we're seeing just this unfold in real time that emergency disaster money needed to be increased. So that all the heat, again, that Schumer took about not getting enough. I mean, I frankly think is is, you know, very unfair, because I think, you know, the assistance that, you know, first responders are now going to be able to get local communities that are, you know, incurring COVID related costs. I mean, that final bill was much, much better than what Mitch McConnell had put in there, which, as you pointed out, was basically a bill aimed at the you know, big corporations and the final product was much more balanced.

Do we have any idea at all, Joe, whether or not these corporations will ever pay a penny of these so-called loans back? Because after all, it's the Trumpers who are gonna be making those, watching the store?

Well, again, the legislation is quite clear, these are not grants. And I mean, if a corporation qualifies for, you know, distress status and essential value, and gets a low interest loan and defaults, and just goes out of business and defaults, I mean, that could certainly put the taxpayer at some risk, but they're not getting grants. These are not that you know, again, it will be a loan document, it will be a loan instrument that is used by the Department of Treasury under the terms of the language of the status. So what I think the improvement that occurred is just to make sure that somebody else is watching what the Treasury is doing. And by the way, there was also provisions in there, because of the, you know, the pushback that happened when Schumer did not allow this thing to just get rubber-stamped, to make sure that businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, members of Congress, heads of executive departments are barred from receiving loans or investments from these Treasury programs. So, you know, again, there was a lot of suspicion that some of this could end up at corporations that, you know, the President basically still controls despite, you know, whatever, you know, moves he made to separate himself from that which were very, you know, minor. The bottom line is, is those entities cannot receive any of these loans that the Cares Act set up.

That's the bottom line from Joe Courtney, our friend from Connecticut, of the beautiful second district. He's been in office since 2007. And Joe when we come back the next time, I got a lot more question for you.


Dr. Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the University at Albany. He hosts the weekly Capitol Connection series, heard on public radio stations around New York. The program, for almost 12 years, highlighted interviews with Governor Mario Cuomo and now continues with conversations with state political leaders. Dr. Chartock also appears each week on The Media Project and The Roundtable and offers commentary on Morning Edition, weekdays at 7:40 a.m.