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A COVID-19 relief package is not stimulus, 'it's a life preserver': Rep. Don Beyer

Yahoo Finance’s Brian Sozzi and Alexis Christoforous speak with Representative Don Beyer about the stopgap spending plan, and the stalled stimulus talks.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Let's bring in Democratic congressman Don Beyer of Virginia now. He's the vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee. He voted on this bill last night.

Congressman, good morning. And thanks so much for being with us. So I guess, do you think the Republican colleagues in the Senate will approve this stopgap spending plan?

DON BEYER: Yeah. I very much think they will. We've seen four previous major deals negotiated between Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. And the Senate's gone along with each one in a big bipartisan way.

There's no reason for them not to do this. They got what they wanted. And-- and none of us want the government shutdown right now.

BRIAN SOZZI: Congressman, Jerome Powell-- Fed Chief Jerome Powell yesterday's testimony again implored lawmakers to pass new rounds of stimulus. Are his words getting through? Are people understanding that down in DC that you know what? We need to get something done, and maybe it should have been done a month ago.

DON BEYER: Well, it should've been done on May 15 when we passed the original Heroes Act. Yeah. I think every democrat on both sides understands how important it is. And we really hope our Republican pals will come around.

You know, Nancy Pelosi-- we started at $3.5 trillion and have been negotiating with ourselves all the way down to $2.2. But the-- the big Republican version was $500 billion, you know, a fraction of what's needed. But you have, you know, probably more than 11% of Americans unemployed right now.

The $600 unemployment insurance bump's gone away. A lot of people are almost done with their 26 weeks. People are really-- the stimulus or the money we gave them back in the spring got them through the first couple of months through July. But now they're really hurting.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Congressman, I know you represent parts of northern Virginia right over the Potomac there from DC. What are your constituents telling you about what's happening right now in DC and-- and their reaction to the fight over a Supreme Court Justice and, of course, over the coronavirus?

DON BEYER: There's so many different reactions. But there's a lot of sadness, despair, mostly-- first over RBG. It was a tremendous loss to our country. But then the notion that-- that Mitch McConnell would have a double standard not taking up Merrick Garland but shoving through whoever Donald Trump nominates.

There's the larger concern about the Republicans planning to contest elections in battleground states based on alleged fraud. That worries an awful lot of people. And in the short term-- I have a lot of federal employees, more than any other member of Congress. This whole notion that they-- they don't have to pay Social Security taxes from now to the end of the year, then they have to pay double next year, it's not going over very well.

BRIAN SOZZI: Congressman, if President Trump's pick ultimately for the Supreme Court, that now vacancy, if that does get approved and the Affordable Care Act is overturned, how big a shock to the system do you think that will be?

DON BEYER: It'll be enormous, especially because you have something like half of the Americans that are currently insured have some kind of pre-existing condition. We're gonna-- that really becomes the centerpiece of this fight over the Supreme Court nominee because we know that only on a 5-4 vote with John Roberts was the Affordable Care Act preserved. That would shove us out of the rank of developed countries in terms of how we treat our citizens if that's overturned. That's the biggest thing at stake.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Congressman, it's been about two months since that extra help from the government has been given to Americans. And so far, you know, consumer spending's been holding up. The housing market's been holding up. What do you say to those who believe, you know what? We can get through this without another big stimulus package.

DON BEYER: Well, Alexis, the people at the top-- Raj Chetty at Harvard has done some wonderful studies that show that, you know, most of the economic decline was based on people in the top 25% not spending money on personal services outside the home. Instead, we had the highest savings rate in American history. But the people in the bottom quarter, the ones who lost their job, those are the ones who were able to get by when there was a stimulus and are really beginning to suffer now.

And we're seeing this-- the food banks, the lines are blocks long. We're finding that the shelters are overwhelmed. And we're also finding that the disease is not beginning to ebb. I read-- read just an hour ago that hospitalizations are increasing and the number of positive tests are increasing. So as-- as fall approaches, we-- we're looking at that frightening second wave mixed with the flu for people who have to go to work and who don't have-- if they have a job, and who don't have money if they don't have a job.

BRIAN SOZZI: Congressman, we've heard a lot-- from a lot of folks on our end that there will be volatility into the presidential election. What-- what does volatility actually mean in your view? And what are you hearing from business leaders right now in the lead up to the election? Are they afraid to make investments?

DON BEYER: Well, you see there, the stock market, which is up and down and up and down. I think if there were a-- a relief package that could get us until the vaccines are-- are actually showed up, that would be excellent for business. There are certain kinds of businesses, car dealers, and homebuilders, who are doing fine. On the other hand, without relief, we-- it's projected we'll lose 400,000 of our 500,000 restaurants permanently by the end of the year.

And we've already lost a million small businesses, many of which won't come back. So the-- the need for government to step in and help those people that-- that are not in the, essentially held harmless positions, you know, those with good educations and good jobs is-- is more necessary than ever. And it's not stimulus. It's-- it's life-- life preserver.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Congressman, before we let you go, I know that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court today and tomorrow when she'll be the first woman in history to lie in state in the US Capitol on Friday. Just personally share with us how you'll remember Justice Ginsburg.

DON BEYER: As this tiny woman who was brilliant, and fearless, and also a very kind person. Many people will remark that one of our closest friends was Justice Scalia, but who she couldn't disagree more on-- on political and on legal issues. And yet, she was somebody who reached out to everyone. She's-- she's an incredible role model for my three daughters and I think for women and men across the country.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Congressman Don Beyer, thanks so much for being with us, for making time for us today.

DON BEYER: Thanks, Alexis. Thanks, Brian.