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Sen. Perdue on GOP proposals for pandemic relief, reopening schools

Senate Republicans are considering legislation to sustain a country struggling with the pandemic’s economic fallout. The House passed its own proposal in May, but there is still dissent within the GOP about how much new money to allocate to the trillions that have already been approved. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., joins Judy Woodruff to discuss that, virus testing, reopening schools and more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have been hearing, all eyes are now on the Congress and what it's going to do about COVID relief.

    So, we turn to Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia.

    Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

    We just heard reporting from our Lisa Desjardins about disagreement still among Senate — members of the Senate among Senate Republicans about what to do.

    Speaker Pelosi, Senator Schumer say, Republicans are in disarray.

    Are you in disarray?

  • Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga:

    Well, I listened to most of that report. And I love Lisa, but that was pretty much a gross misrepresentation of what happened in that room today.

    Go back and look at first CARES Act, the different components that we have had there, Judy, I mean, $2.9 trillion. And, by the way, only about $2 trillion of that has been fully allocated. We still have almost a trillion dollars yet to flow into the economy.

    There are several key points right now. We want to see how that has been received and how it has impacted the business world and also our hospitals and schools. We produced seven million new jobs between the last half of May and the month of June. The economy is beginning to open up again. We need to follow the protocols.

    And what we're talking about right now are the priorities to support not only the opening of our businesses, but also the reopening of our schools, more help for our hospitals.

    But what we don't want to do is turn this into a binary conversation between liability protection and bailing out our most financially troubled states.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    So, you're going to see this plan roll out. Leader McConnell talked about parts of it a day — $105 billion, he talked about today for education.

    And there will be some other things coming in the next few days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you're saying in the next few days.

    But let me just ask you. You know the House voted its plan out, $3 trillion, at the end of May.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're still debating this in the Senate. It's almost the end of July.

    Why is it that Republicans, that the Senate hasn't been able to come together with the majority Republicans?

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Judy, I just said that the reason that we purposely did this, we said it back then when we talked about it a month ago, we want to see how this first round of CARES Act, the $2.9 trillion, is impacting not only the economy, but our schools and our hospitals and so forth.

    We're beginning to have a better vision of that right now. But we still — like I said, we have almost a trillion dollars that has not flowed through the economy yet. Now, we know that a lot of the money to the hospitals in our communities have already been dispersed. So that's one we're looking at right now as a high priority.

    Reopening schools is such an emotional issue that we're looking at that very carefully. And also PPP, we still have almost $140 billion that has not been allocated of the 660 that went to that. The Main Street program is just now going out.

    So, there — this — the fact that this looks like and is being reported as an artificial delay or we can't get our act together is a gross misrepresentation of what we're doing here.

    What we're doing is proper, prudent oversight of what we have already allocated.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what about something that is about to run out?

    And that is unemployment benefits, including additional benefits of up to — of $600 a week. Those run out at the end of July. That's 10 days from now. Where does that stand?

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Well, first of all, Judy, the representation that unemployment benefits run out is not correct.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The additional amount.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    What happens to run is the premium — the premium, the $600 premium.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    And I can tell you, in my state, the number one thing that's holding us back from opening up a lot of small businesses further than they are is the fact that they're having trouble getting people to come back to work because of this premium.

    In our state, they do get a premium at much — many of the people who are working get that premium. I believe that, going forward, we have got to reopen the economy, follow the protocols, and, in my state particularly, that doesn't include a premium that we have just done to help in the worst time.

    We're moving past that now. And the thing we're focusing on is putting the money where it needs to be. And we're looking at maybe reprogramming some of the money that has already been used in the first round of CARES.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two very quick questions about this COVID relief. And I do want to ask you about schools.

    But one is, the president wants to cut payroll taxes. Are you in favor that?

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Well, I think, in sending people right now through payroll — payroll tax is one way to do. And I do support that, actually. I support that better than giving just a direct payment, like we did in the first round of CARES.

    I really oppose that, because we didn't see the impact back in '11 and '12, when that was done. But this thing of incenting people through the tax structure, I do support. As a business guy, I think that does work.

    It needs to be targeted. It needs to be short-term. And it needs to be focused on the immediate needs of the next few months.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to ask you about your proposal on schools, K-12 schools, to help them come up with the best plan for reopening.

    As you know, a number of teachers are saying they are concerned about the rush to reopen. How much does your plan take into consideration the needs of teachers?

    I know both of your parents were teachers.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Well, thank you, Judy.

    Yes, I — this is very sensitive to me. I know it's a tough decision by local administrators. I believe the best decision is made by the local parent, teacher and administrators. And so does President Trump. And that's why he's pushing this down to the state level.

    Look, we know this is a very emotional thing. I have just been on the phone with superintendents and principals today, talking about this for our state. And what we're really trying to do in my act is give them some help. Right now, we have about $105 billion coming in this next round, potentially, for K-12, and also our colleges.

    In K-12, though, if we're opening the economy, and these working parents are going back to work, we have got to find a way to safely take care of the education of our children.

    About half the schools — so far, many schools are doing a hybrid program right now, until they get more clarity, but more testing, PPE, integration with health care, getting a database to know what's going on in those schools, and getting a summary of best practices, these are all things that makes common sense to try to help these administrators make good decisions about protecting our kids and, oh, by the way, the families they go home to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Many of the largest school districts in the state of Georgia are saying they are not going to go back, start the fall semester with in-person classes. Are they making a mistake?

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Well, I certainly couldn't judge that, Judy.

    And I don't think anybody can. I trust the local administrator and parents and teachers to make those decisions. And it's going to vary county by county. We talked to several superintendents today. And they all have a little different formula about how they're doing it.

    I don't want it politicized. And I don't think it's being politicized right now in many of those counties. These people are trying to make an earnest and thoughtful decision.

    The priority is protecting our children and their families, and also reopen the economy, and make sure that we don't have these kids lose significant portions of this year in terms of education.

    Look, this full-court press we're making on regimen treatments and a vaccine are all integrated into this effort to open the economy, get our schools moving again, and get us back to some sort of normalcy here as soon as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quick final question.

    Now, you mentioned testing in schools. Some members of your Republican colleagues think there should be more money spent on testing. What do you think?

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Well, we were told today by the secretary of Treasury that, right now, we have got plenty of money that's available to do that.

    I do not resist spending more money on testing. Look, we have got two groups out there, two control groups, the U.S. military and our essential workers. The military is following general order number one right now, which is a biohazard protocol.

    And we know it works. Their infection rate and the infection rate of essential workers is a little bit lower than the rest of us who have been sheltering in place.

    So, I believe in more testing, whatever it takes. We have been told the money is there. If it's not, we will appropriate more money for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Senator David Perdue of Georgia, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Sen. David Perdue:

    Thanks, Judy.

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