Traverse City News and Events

Stabenow Sees "Difficult And Maddening" Virus, A Ticking Clock On More Relief

By Luke Haase | May 16, 2020

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow was amidst a busy Friday schedule when The Ticker tracked her down in Washington D.C. to talk about the potential for more economic relief, bipartisanship, her position on a possible regional reopening for northern Michigan, and more.

Ticker: Let’s start with you. What’s your schedule been like?
Stabenow: Before all this happened, I came home every weekend. I was working 12-hour days anyway, and now it’s more like 16, just operating 24/7 and being abundantly cautious. I’m operating by Zoom, and I have every kind of electronic meeting app on my iPad and then do conference calls. Back when I first came home, I was immediately enmeshed with the Governor and her great team and working with manufacturers, FEMA, HHS, trying to connect people. It was extremely chaotic. I would just say the one other dimension is that I have a number of members of my wonderful family who are essential workers on the front lines, so I understand the feelings and pressures of those who have loved ones [doing that]…

Ticker: What are you expecting going forward with regard to the virus and the economy?
Stabenow: Well, we are learning as we go on this virus, and that’s one of the most frustrating and difficult things. I believe strongly we have to listen to the medical experts and the science…I think the Governor did the right thing in acting quickly, and the epidemiologists estimate it saved 3,500 lives in Michigan. But I also understand the incredible frustration of small business owners, and it’s not and can’t be “either or.” If we reopen without paying attention to health risks, we will not be successful. We will see a resurgence. What we hear from the experts in Michigan is it’s about taking steps, and then waiting two weeks and you measure. And then taking more steps. We all want to open up the economy as quickly as possible, and I know the weight of the world is on the Governor and her team.

The original CARES [Act] package was done quickly, with everyone trying to do their best and get it right looking more short-term. And so now there are things that need to be changed. One of the areas I’m really pushing on is that the Paycheck Protection Program was setup as an eight-week support for businesses. The House bill they’re voting on today would extend that to six months…business owners need more flexibility.

Ticker: What’s the latest with the possibility for another relief bill passing, given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the latest House bill was “DOA?”
Stabenow: Well, we need to take action. It’s inaction that’s gotten us to this point. It was inaction when the first case was identified January 20 and there was no testing and no aggressive measures…South Korea had their first case the same day…but we now have 30 percent of the cases in the world and only four percent of the world’s population. We need to be acting now. This [new House bill] package is about putting people first. Making sure our schools don’t get cut. Local police and fire. States were told the burden was on their shoulders, so all the states stepped in to do that -- and they assumed the federal government would have their back. Now to hear unfortunately Majority Leader McConnell thinks the strategy should be for states to declare bankruptcy, and that certainly would not be good for Michigan…

Ticker: We saw almost unprecedented bipartisanship in the early weeks in Washington, but it sounds like those days are gone and the posturing is picking up.
Stabenow: We have to work in a bipartisan way to get things done and ultimately that’s what will happen. You know, the CARES package didn’t start out bipartisan. I was on the bipartisan committee…and we negotiated.

Ticker: But the clock was ticking then.
Stabenow: Right, and it was five days, which was amazing. And that will have to happen here. When you talk to state legislators and the Governor, their clock is ticking now, and they’re going to need a balanced budget. So very soon we’re going to see cuts…It’s a different clock now, it’s a clock for communities and families and for Traverse City small businesses.

Ticker: Here we’re wondering about a regional approach to reopening. Not one-size-fits-all, given our cases are very small while metro Detroit has significant numbers. Would you support that?
Stabenow: For me, we have to do it based on the medical recommendations. It sounds like common sense on first blush, until we look at how the virus travels and what that means for northern Michigan. I know there’s been a lot of concern from northern Michigan about people coming up from metro Detroit to their summer homes. So it has to be thought through. It would be great if it made sense…but I’m hearing the new hotspot now is west Michigan. And that is what is so difficult and maddening about all this. You can’t put lines around it.

Ticker: I know we’re out of time, but quickly: How would you grade the responses by the Governor and the President?
Stabenow: Here’s the challenge: People will interpret this as partisan, even though it’s not: The Governor has acted immediately and saved lives. The President did not act immediately and it cost us lives.

Pictured: Sen. Stabenow visiting a business prior to the pandemic.

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