Statement of Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause President
Americans expect and deserve elected representatives who put the interests of their constituents and the health of our democracy first – especially when both are threatened by a pandemic. But instead, the Senate Republicans’ long-overdue COVID-19 relief package undermines the accuracy of the 2020 census, gives corporations the immunity they’ve lobbied for, slashes weekly jobless aid, and short-changes our democracy all in one fell swoop. Senate foot-dragging on this relief package already allowed the eviction moratorium in the CARES Act to expire – likely adding disenfranchisement to the host of life-altering problems faced by thousands of newly-homeless Americans.
Even the proposed increase in census funding is a red herring, in that it ignores the extended timetable that career census officials say is required for an accurate count in light of the obstacles created by the pandemic. It would require the count to proceed on a timetable which would leave far too many residents uncounted. This measure in the Senate bill echoes attempts by the White House to undermine the accuracy of the census for partisan political advantage leaving the poorest and hardest to count undercounted and underrepresented in Congress and underfunded when it comes to essential services like hospitals, schools, and roads.
The Senate proposal also fails to provide any additional funding for cash-strapped state and local election officials who exhausted their budgets holding primary elections during a public health crisis. The right to vote and vote safely should be a priority for Congress, not a means to suppress the vote. The bill provides nothing for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) which will be relied upon heavily in the coming election to deliver ballot applications and ballots on-time in order to allow every American to make their voices heard at the polls. Again, this move follows the lead of a White House determined to undermine the effectiveness of the Postal Service on the eve of an election.
Further there is no funding in this bill to help provide reliable broadband service to all Americans at a time when every household relies on connectivity like never before – from job-hunting, telecommuting and at-home learning to telehealth, applying for an absentee ballot, and staying informed about the pandemic. We must never leave broad swaths of our society from the vital services they require – and in this day and age reliable broadband has become an essential service. The package also fails to provide adequate funding for local news outlets, which remain a critical source of news and information as communities navigate the pandemic despite seeing their revenue streams deplete.
Now is a moment when Congress should be providing a lifeline to our democracy rather than attempting to use a pandemic relief package as a voter suppression vehicle. But sadly, that is what this Senate bill boils down to at the end of the day. We strongly urge rank-and-file Republican Senators to stand up to their leadership in order to strengthen this bill and make it one that puts the health of our democracy before political expediency.
We call on the Senate to take up the Heroes Act, which passed the House on a bipartisan vote more than two months ago. The Heroes Act includes many provisions to strengthen our democracy, such as extending the Census reporting deadlines and providing funding for our elections, the U.S. Postal Service, broadband access, and local journalism. And further the Heroes Act provides billions of dollars and Homeowner and Tenant-Based Rental Assistance to Americans facing hardships in the pandemic-crippled economy – including those facing eviction after the Senate dawdling allowed the CARES Act eviction moratorium to expire.