For the second day in a row, the Senate this afternoon failed to invoke cloture on the nearly $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act—an action to limit further debate on a bill—which is being eyed as a vehicle to help fund Internet connections for students whose schools have closed, to fund telemedicine projects, and to support voting by mail, which could help address some election cybersecurity concerns.
The cloture votes, which require a three-fifths majority, failed for lack of Democratic support. Negotiations are expected to continue on a developing an agreement as soon as later today.
Yesterday, Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), and Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) led 16 other Democratic and Independent senators in a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to urge inclusion in the CARES Act of “sufficient funding to help ensure that all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing pandemic.”
They added, “We believe that Congress must provide robust resources for these purposes, in order to guarantee that all children are able to continue their education during the current public health emergency. Simply put, we cannot bail out the airline industry to the tune of tens of billions while providing only pennies for our nation’s children.”
The long-standing “homework gap …. will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff,” the senators said.
“We specifically request that you include at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home,” they said.
Also among those who have eyed the third of Congress’s anticipated coronavirus relief measures for telecom- and broadband-related provisions is the Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai.
In a statement last week regarding the waiver of a ban on providers’ gifts to participants in the E-rate and telemedicine programs so that they can provide mobile hot spots and other broadband-enabled devices during the pandemic (TR Daily, March 18), Chairman Pai said that he expects such private-sector efforts to “complement the Commission’s ongoing work with Congress to appropriate funds for a Remote Learning Initiative and a COVID Connected Care Pilot—programs that would allow us to use federal funds to support in-home equipment for patients and students impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Some Senate Democrats had hoped to include funding for federal elections in the bill. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Chris Coons (D., Del.) sent a letter Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) urging them to consider funds to enable every U.S. voter to vote by mail.
“In light of the threats that this virus poses, every American should be able to cast a ballot by mail without excuse. That means states will have to scale their vote-by-mail processes in a way that hasn’t been done before. This will require the federal government to provide swift assistance to states so that they can begin to purchase the supplies and equipment necessary to ensure every American can safely vote in 2020,” they said.
Citing an estimate from the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Brennan Center, they said their vote-by-mail proposal would cost $2 billion, a small fraction of the overall relief spending being proposed. Vote-by-mail would protect people from having to congregate in polling places and would also solve a large share of the cybersecurity challenges facing U.S. elections.
A proposed House pandemic relief bill would also promote vote-by-mail and extended voting periods, according to Speaker Pelosi. The House bill that was unveiled today, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, would ensure “that states can carry out this year’s election with billions in grant funding for states through the Election Assistance Commission and a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail, including mailing a ballot to all registered voters in an emergency,” she said. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected], and Tom Leithauser, [email protected]
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