The U.S. Senate is negotiating how a House novel coronavirus relief package will be distributed to the public. KUNR's Bree Zender spoke with Nevada's 2nd District Congressman Mark Amodei about this pending legislation and what economic hurdles Nevada is now facing due to the pandemic.
Zender: So with this rush for relief, when it concerns the coronavirus for Americans, what's on the top of your priority list?
Amodei: Well, I don't think it's a what. I think there's two: one is obviously the health stuff and the other one — quite frankly, affects 100 percent of the population — is to try to keep the tax base. Some would call it the economy, some would call it jobs, [but] to keep that basically alive long enough to get us through this. If we don't, then when employers have to rebuild, employee infrastructure and businesses that can't stand 30 days of essentially a shutdown for the common good won't be there anymore.
It's 'multitasking Olympics' time, as far as policymakers go. We've got to do the right thing, to make sure those health care folks on the front line of the virus fight have what they need, as fast as we can get it to them. The other part of it is to keep employers basically maintaining their employees so that we don't have a bunch of people scattered just to the unemployment system.
Zender: How do you keep Nevada's economy going through this pandemic?
Amodei: The federal government is the insurer of last resort when it comes to natural disasters. It's just that this one is global, so obviously we're focused on nationwide. 'How do you keep them going,' is to basically give them an economic bridge to get through the next 90, 120 days, to when the health care stuff starts easing off a little bit and we can start bringing businesses back to what they were before.
Zender: So when you say economic bridge, can you explain that a little more?
Amodei: You've got employers that are less than 500 in the middle right now. You've got large employers that are over 500. You've got help for unemployment, you've got help for the airlines, you've got help for basically every aspect of the economy. Now there's some that have been spared, but for the most part, it's basically providing liquidity. That's lines of credit where there wouldn't have been credit before. Some of those, for the 500 or less employers, are going to have loan forgiveness provisions in them, if you keep your employees on the payroll. But for the most part, it's tax relief. It's short term liquidity packages to keep businesses with their employees close to them, so that we can basically get to July, August, September — whatever it takes.
Zender: So these packages that are being sent out... they're multi-billion dollar, trillion dollar packages. Do you have concern for the national debt at this point?
Amodei: Well, I am concerned. But basically the gross domestic product last year was $22 trillion. Quite frankly, nobody had a choice as to whether or not [the novel coronavirus] arrived at our shores. So it's not a fault thing, you have to keep your eye on that ball. If your economy goes 'kerplunk,' then so does your tax base. So if you triple net it out and go beneath the surface of this a little bit, it's better to spend some money keeping that tax base paying taxes than it is to have it extinct.
Zender: Nevada is now under order by the governor to close all non-essential businesses. Do you agree with that decision by the governor?
Amodei: I think in the final analysis that it will prove to be the right decision. Quite frankly, when he first did it, I know there was a lot of pushback and there was a lot of concern. As I said earlier, it's the 'multitasking Olympics,' so you've got to do the right thing in terms of the health for the folks in your state. At the same time, now I think it's appropriate for the governor and his folks — the business and industry folks in that committee that he created — [to] start talking about how we throw a lifeline to those businesses that we've ordered to shut down, so that when it comes time to 'shut open,' that there's something there left for them.
Zender: So this latest support bill that's up in the Senate at the moment, the Families First Coronavirus Response bill, it was a house bill. It's on the Senate floor now [and] is being held back by some Senate negotiations. Why did you vote yes for that bill?
Amodei: It was pretty much on point. We needed to get at least the initial stages out, in terms of getting some help for folks that were having their jobs impacted. There was some more medical stuff in there [and] we passed two bills so far. The third one is the one that tries to be more comprehensive in terms of business things, but quite frankly, nobody's responsible for a natural disaster. So it's all right in the new playbook on this stuff, so we're doing what we think is right, as fast as we can.
I think the first two bills were pretty timely. This third one is being delayed, I hope only a day or two, while people on both sides recognize that it is not a time to try to gain a political victory in something that's not related to people's jobs or people's health. So I'm thinking that cooler heads will prevail, or by gosh, you ought to expect to be judged by the American people, if you can't put the political stuff aside, even in times like this.