Maryland is among the states with the highest concentration of federal employees, agencies and contractors. That’s why, for Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin the drafting of the emergency stimulus bill signed last Friday by President Donald Trump was especially important. Cardin joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin earlier to give some of his thoughts.
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Tom Temin: How are you this morning?
Ben Cardin: We’re all struggling, but we’re all going to get through this.
Tom Temin: You can’t telework, though, as a senator, right? I mean, there’s no votes without being there, correct?
Ben Cardin: Well, that’s correct. As of now, we are now out ’til April 20 for a combination of the fact that we were in during their last break, and we have the Easter/Passover break. So we’re off now ’til April 20 unless we need to act before then. But it’s unclear what happens on April 20. Do we return and we can’t do group meetings so we can’t have committee hearings. We can’t get together to do our normal strategizing. So only reason we would co-mingle would be on the floor to vote. And a lot of us are saying, why don’t we do that remotely? ‘Cause it’s not difficult for me to get to Washington, but if you’re living in California. That means you gotta commute across the country, which is something we don’t want to see happen. So it’s unclear whether we will find some way to telecommute, including voting. The House would like to do it and their leadership’s in favor of it. The Senate would like to do it, but our leadership on the Republican side’s against it, so we’ll see what happens.
Tom Temin: I guess there are technological means that would work. I think some of the Zoom or WebEx meetings you can have 100 people and you could actually see one another.
Ben Cardin: From an integrity point of view, they could see me, the clerk or the person who’s recording the vote could actually see me and hear me and get my vote. And if we wanna have interaction from point of view of debate, we could do it on Zoom also. So there – the technology is there, that’s not the problem. It’s the traditions of the Senate more than it is technology.
Tom Temin: And looking at some of the issues, there has been talk with respect to a possible fourth bill. Have you thought about that? Has the Senate thought about it and what could be the subject of another bill related to the pandemic?
Ben Cardin: There clearly will be fourth bill, and there’ll be fifth bill and there’ll be a sixth bill, and probably a seventh bill before we’re finished, because there’s still a lot of unforeseen issues concerning COVID-19 as relates to our health needs as relates to our economy and unforeseen other areas that we don’t even know about yet. We don’t know how long this is gonna last, so there’ll be other bills that we have to take up. I think COVID-19, the third stimulus was so large that we need a little bit of time to see its impact. From the point of view of both the health, on the economy. We need to be able to act immediately on health. On the economy, I think we have to see how well these tools are operating. Then look at what we need next. Clearly from the Democrats in the House there were areas in this stimulus bill that they wanted to do differently, so they’re anxious to build on those additional points for the next bill. But it will take weeks before we get to the next bill, unless again, something develops that requires us to act quickly.
Tom Temin: Now, the bill did put some pretty heavy burdens on the Small Business Administration, the IRS and other federal agencies. What’s the plan for making sure that they’re on the job, on the ball, the oversight part of all this?
Ben Cardin: Tom thank you for that question. I’ve been in touch with the administrator at the Small Business Administration. I was responsible as the lead Democrat on the Small Business Committee for helping to develop the small business provisions of the stimulus bill, along with Chairman [Marco] Rubio, the Republican chair of the committee. We’ve been in conversations with the SBA. We are extremely pleased by the prompt turnaround time in getting information out on how to apply for this $377 billion of relief for small businesses in order to protect their workforce. So starting this week, applications are being processed. We hope next week you’ll actually see checks delivered to small businesses through the banks or financial institutions. In regards to the payroll protection program, which is the loan forgiveness of up to eight weeks of payroll, some other expenses as well as the emergency loans and grants that are available through the SBA through their website. We’ve given the SBA significant increase in resource is for their administrative capacity so they can respond to this and they have accepted the challenge. And we hope now that we’ll see this rolled out in the next few days.
Tom Temin: And what about the IRS? Because they maybe affect more Americans with what they’ve got to do.
Ben Cardin: The IRS has also additional resource is that have been made available for the administration of the IRS. That’s important. You know, we recognize these missions carried on by federal workers are challenging under normal times. Now it’s even more challenging. We’ve had a real challenge dealing with this administration to make sure that we got the resources for telecommuting so that people could be safe during the COVID-19. And we’ve got to make sure they have the resources to carry out these new responsibilities. It is mammoth. The IRS is gonna be responsible for sending out these checks to every taxpayer in this country, every Social Security recipient in this country – $1,200 per person plus $500 per child. They have other responsibilities, including new provisions in the tax code to help employers preserve their employment through a retention credit. There’s been changes in the dates on which returns have to be filed but that information has to get out to the taxpayers. So the burden on the IRS has been multiplied as far as the amount of work they’re gonna need to do, and they need to do it through telecommuting, to the extent possible. So, yes, we need to recognize that our federal workforce, it’s on the front line. They have to have the support they need in order to carry out these responsibilities.
Tom Temin: Were speaking with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin. And what have you been hearing from federal contractors? Because Maryland has a large population of federal contractors, a lot of them in the biotech area. What are you hearing and what are they, what are their pain points?
Ben Cardin: Well, one of the points that I raised during the passage of this most recent bill is that we need to recognize the federal contractors are not gonna be able to perform on time their contracts with the federal government because of COVID-19. We need to provide relief in the bill. And we did. We provided a relief on the time areas of performing federal contracts. We provided the wherewithal, the contracts could be equitably adjusted in order to deal with the extra costs as a result of COVID-19. We provided provisions where we can pay the leave for contract workers that are not able to work because of federal facilities not being available to work at. So we have provided significant relief for our federal contractors, recognizing that COVID-19 prevented them carrying out their responsibilities according to the terms of the contract and that we needed to provide financial assistance to make sure they were not disadvantaged.
Tom Temin: And backing up a moment – I mean, before the coronavirus pandemic really hit the Senate and the House were at least nominally concerned with the 2021 appropriations process. The administration did get its proposal out. Lots of disagreement over that. How do you think this is going to affect the long term operations of both Congress and getting the government funded for next year?
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Ben Cardin: Look, Tom I would like to tell you that the president would have a new appreciation for our federal workforce, but I doubt that will be the case. We’ve seen it over and over again what this administration is done in regards to workers’ rights and regards to the federal employees as it related to developing guidelines before this crisis on telecommuting, where we had tremendous challenge. And the government was late to to announce the telecommuting in regards to the COVID-19 issues. Look at their budget. Their budget is outrageous. It’s just such a disrespect for the federal workers and the public service that they are committed to. So fortunately, we have bipartisan support in Congress to reject the president’s blueprint in his budget and to provide the necessary resources to our agencies that carry out these responsibilities. But I do think there will be a better appreciation for our dedication of federal workers through this crisis, because many have to show up because their services can only be done in person. Others have been extraordinary in the way that they have carried out the essential missions of the federal agencies through telecommuting. And now many are getting additional responsibilities. I could mention the Census Bureau because this is census time, and they’ve got to carry out their work under very, very difficult circumstances. So I hope there’s a appreciation with the men and women who are federal workers, what they do every day and that Congress will provide the resources and tools they need in order to carry out their public service for the people this country.
Tom Temin: So does that mean the Senate will get its appropriations bills done on time for 2021?
Ben Cardin: Well, we have a definition of on time that is different than everyone else’s definition of on time. We’re supposed to get every appropriation done for a 12-month period starting by Oct. 1. Will we meet that deadline? Very, very unlikely. This is an election year, and I think it’s unlikely we would get all of our appropriations bills done. We should. I think we’ll get many of them done. I do think that there is a sense among the appropriators and among the members that we would like to get four-year appropriations done on time so we can give predictability to the American people on our federal agencies.
Tom Temin: Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, thanks so much for joining me.
Ben Cardin: Tom it’s a pleasure to be with you and again, I want to send my thanks to all those people who are serving our country as federal workers. You do yeomen work. We recognize that sometimes we have a difficult way of showing our appreciation. But we appreciate everything you do for the American people.
Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at www.federalnewsnetwork.com/FederalDrive. Subscribe to the Federal Drive at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone. Stay up to date on your agency’s latest responses to coronavirus. Visit our special resources page at www.federalnewsnetwork.com.