By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
As the U.S. House moves forward with writing the COVID-19 relief bill, Virginia’s U.S. Congressmen Robert Scott said he has his eye on key parts of the massive plan.
Scott is the Chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee and the panel has jurisdiction over 20 percent of the now $1.9 Trillion spending bill.
The House writes all spending bills and will send its version to the Senate for its input and vote on it.
Democrats control the Senate now by one vote, Vice President Kamala Harris.
Since it is a spending bill it can be passed via reconciliation, requiring a majority vote of Democrats, thus Republican support is not needed.
After differences are reconciled between the two bodies and the left and right wings of the Democrat Party, it will be sent to President Biden for his signature.
Scott said the $1400 stimulus check for individuals will be approved, but there will be a fixed and hard cap on who will receive it.
Under this proposal, singles who have adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less and married couples who earn up to $150,000 are eligible for the full $1,400 each.
They would also receive $1,400 for each dependent, no matter the age.
Singles who earn under $100,000 and couples who earn under $200,000 would get partial payments. Payments are cut off completely for those who earn more.
The final details of that bill are still unclear, and details may change. President Biden would like the package to provide billions for things like vaccines and state governments, while also extending unemployment benefits and upping enhanced benefits payments from $300 in the December package to $400 per week.
Despite indications that infections and deaths are slowing, Scott said he is concerned about the push to reopen the schools.
He said over $130 billion of the bill is dedicated to paying for ways to achieve that goal.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has pressured school divisions to offer some form of in-person learning by March 15.
Local elected officials, administrators, teacher groups, and parents have been pushing back on the timeline state officials are proposing.
For example, last week, Norfolk’s School Board unanimously voted to approve an updated plan for a return to in-person learning.
On March 1, teachers and staff will return to their respective work locations to make final preparations to begin safely phasing in students on March 15.
The process in Norfolk will be completed by April 26. During and after the phase-in process, teachers will use a hybrid instruction model each day to teach their lessons.
Scott said Congressional Democrats are well aware of the need and importance of the in-person instruction “but it must be done safely.”
“Studies show achievement is better, children learn social skills and have access to nutrition they may not get at home,” said Scott.
“There is also the ability to detect abuse and behavioral problems, but our school systems that serve our poorest students must have the resources to do so…safely.”
Scott said many locales have school infrastructure problems where ventilation systems are outdated.
He said updated HVAC systems could deter the airborne virus throughout the buildings, along with social distancing and other Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Safety guidelines issued recently.
He said the COVID-19 bill will provide billions of dollars to address these and other issues including disinfection and PPE for faculty and staff.
Scott noted fewer and socially distanced students, per classroom will require funding for more teachers.
More money for transportation will be needed. With fewer students on buses, more trips will be made to and from schools.
Scott said another issue President Biden and Congressional Democrats will face is raising the federal minimum wage to $15 from the current $7.25.
Scott agrees with Biden on a gradual increase which may be more palatable to lawmakers and the small business sector, which claim it will reduce jobs, something that competing studies debate.
But Scott cited one statistic which should motivate state and federal lawmakers to raise the rate.
“There is no county in the USA, where a person working 40 hours a week, 52 days a week, making the minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment,” he said. “We need to address the abysmal
poverty and growing homelessness in this country.”
Scott said while his panel was seeking to address its role in crafting the bill, the U.S. Capitol was attacked by a mob incited by former President Trump last month.
Scott said he was safely in his office in the Rayburn Office Building across the street from the building when the violence started.
The U.S. Congress was seeking to certify the electoral college and he was watching that process and later the media coverage of the attack on the Capitol on TV.
He noted evidence of the complicity of Trump in fermenting the chaos detailed during the impeachment hearings. Trump is believed to have fueled the violence with his continuous denial that he lost the election.
Scott pointed to Trump’s statements to the mob gathered in front of the White House where he urged them to “Walk down to the Capitol”; the cell phone exchanges with various Republican lawmakers, huddling for safety in the Capitol; evidence of rioters’ preconceived tactical plans to target officials such as Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence.
One of the byproducts of the 2020 election and the January 6 violence, was the emergence of Georgia’s newest Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green. She supports QAnon, a disproven far right
conspiracy theory that supports Trump and denies the reality of the mass school shootings; are anti-Semitic; and have threatened fellow lawmakers with violence.
Green was placed on the Education and Labor Committee, which Scott Chairs. But the House voted to remove her from it and other committee assignments.
Scott applauded her removal because she denies the school mass shootings and other views which are outlandish.
While it is on the agenda of the President and Congressional Democrats, providing relief for the trillions of dollars in student college debt relief will
not be part of the massive COVID-19 spending bill.
Last year House Democrats passed some relief in a loan payment deferment until September
President Biden and members like Scott reject a $50,000 debt forgiveness proposal endorsed by more liberal members of his party. They do support at least the $10,000 for now.
Scott said Biden extending the freeze on most federal student loan payments through Sept. 30
was a “big deal.”
Scott said he wants to “consider all options” to tackle student loan debt. But he also questioned whether canceling large amounts of debt per student of the outstanding $1.5 trillion in student loan debt was doable.
“One problem with that is that it’s a huge amount of money and that it does not solve the problem,” Scott said. He said he supports “significant relief” for existing borrowers but wants to focus on ways to address the college affordability program more comprehensively.
Those options, he said, include reducing interest rates, expanding income-based repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and increasing the Pell Grant.