When Senate Democrats introduced a bill to slow down the spread of coronavirus, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander was having none of it.
In the midst of the worst public health crisis that the United States has seen in the recent past, the federal government is scrambling to establish measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and ensure its citizens have access to adequate healthcare. The latter probably sounds like a Republican's worst nightmare. Evidently, it is. When the US Senate attempted to swiftly pass a paid sick leave bill that would allow millions of Americans a sustainable way to prevent the spread of the disease, a single Republican Senator made sure the bill did not pass, The Hill reports. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee, blocked an attempt by Senate Democrats to make sure employers across the nation would have to actively participate in protecting the country's public health.
While paid sick leave has been a hotly debated topic in the US for years now, it has never been more relevant than right now. Dozens of citizens have already succumbed to coronavirus, while hundreds of others have reportedly contracted the illness. Therefore, individuals - regardless of what field they work in - have been recommended to self-quarantine for a minimum of two weeks. For many, this would mean forgoing pay for as long as they choose to prevent the spread of coronavirus by simply following suggestions from federal health agencies. Needless to say, the options they have to choose from are quite dystopian: either work and contract a deadly disease or lose out on income. Both choices doom our citizens to a fate they shouldn't have to endure in the world's wealthiest developed country.
The bill was introduced to circumvent this reality. Sponsored by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, one of the worst-hit regions in the United States, the legislation would ensure employers granted their employees 14 days of paid sick leave during public health emergencies such as the one currently taking place. On Wednesday, the Senator attempted to gain unanimous consent on the bill, but Senator Alexander refused to comply. As per Senate rules, any one Senator can choose to set up a vote by request or, alternatively, get unanimous consent on a piece of legislation. On similar lines, however, one Senator can object to this request.
Rejecting the idea, Senator Alexander, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, stated from the Senate floor, "The idea of paid sick leave is a good idea. But if Washington, D.C., thinks it's a good idea, Washington, D.C., should pay for it. It's not a cure for the coronavirus to put a big new expensive federal mandate on employers who are struggling in the middle of this matter." While the Senator is not wrong - businesses are definitely struggling during this public health crisis - his opposition to the bill only worsens the predicted outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Murray, who recognizes that the alternative to paid sick leave is the faster spread of the deadly virus, affirmed, "Our primary goal right now, for people in my home state and across the country, needs to be slowing the spread of the virus in areas where there are outbreaks, so areas where it hasn’t hit so hard yet have time to prepare. One of the best ways we can do this is by allowing workers who feel sick—or who need to stay home with a child whose school is closed — to do so without losing a paycheck or a job." She worries that employees may try to show up to work sick if they do not have access to paid sick leave, only speeding up the spread of coronavirus. If Congress does not act soon, the country may be looking at a crisis we cannot jump back from.