Maine U.S. Sen. Susan Collins says negotiations are underway between Republicans and Democrats over a third stimulus package to help provide loans and other relief to small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Collins, who sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Health Committee, spoke Thursday with Maine Public's Senior Political Correspondent Mal Leary, who also asked about the distribution of personal protective equipment - or PPE - for first responders.
Collins: I believe that the majority leader will introduce a comprehensive third package later today [Thursday]. We are beginning negotiations with our Democratic counterparts, and we've already had some informal negotiations. And I think it's imperative that we wrap up this third package as soon as possible. Otherwise, the consequences for our economy, since the first two packages dealt largely with health and safety issues, as was appropriate, but the implications for our economy really are devastating if we don't act.
Leary: Are you confident that the provisions you and Sen. Rubio [Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida] have been working on will be part of this - that is, loans to small businesses that can be forgiven?
I am confident that the provisions that we have developed will be included in the broader package. Our vision is to try to help small businesses and their employees survive while this epidemic runs its course. And what we are trying to do is to prevent small businesses - there's so many of them that I've heard from in the hospitality industries, such as restaurants, B&B's, gift shops, bars, small hotels - we want to make sure that they can get federally guaranteed loans that they can use for payroll purposes to keep paychecks flowing to their workers during this time when their business has dried up through no fault of their own.
Now, some members of your caucus were opposed to sending checks directly to individuals. Has that been resolved? And if so, is it going to go to every individual, or will there be some income caps?
There will definitely be income caps if there are direct checks, which I think is another provision that is likely to be included. What I've heard discussed is there would be an income cap of $75,000.
Do you expect that this bill can be worked out in the next couple of days?
I feel that it has to be worked out over the next few days and pass either Sunday or early this weekend. And all of us have pledged that we will stay in Washington until it is resolved - by all of us, I mean all of us in the Republican caucus, and particularly those of us who have been the lead negotiators.
The president was kind of sharp with the governors, saying basically that the federal government's not going to act as a shipping clerk in terms of getting needed supplies out there. What we're hearing here locally is we need those supplies and we need them now, particularly things like the the N-95 masks.
That's right. And the federal government plays a very important role. The Maine delegation had an excellent 45-minute call with the governor [Maine Gov. Janet Mills] today, and on the top of her list was more supplies. In addition, I have been working with MaineHealth in Portland about shortages that they are facing as well in their testing materials. So this is really important. And the federal government, because of the National Stockpile, does play a key role. So I would disagree with the president's comments in that regard.
Last issue, senator: You serve on both the Health Committee and, of course, on the Intelligence Committee. The New York Times is now reporting that there was an exercise done just last fall that looked at a pandemic just like we're having now. The similarities are eerie. Were you informed at all on either committee about the results of that - of that exercise - which basically warned about some of the things we're now facing?
I was not. I am aware of it now, but we were not briefed on it. It is possible that what they call the Big Four, the Big Eight, which means the chairman and ranking members of both the House and the Senate as well as the Senate and House leadership, were briefed about it, but the full Intelligence Committee was not.
Senator, thank you very much for taking time from negotiations to speak with us.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.