John Cornyn has been a U.S. senator for Texas since 2002. He is the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, and many say he’s in the toughest race of his political career this year, facing Democratic challenger MJ Hegar.
Both chambers of Congress are considering coronavirus relief bills that would provide additional unemployment benefits and support to businesses affected by pandemic-related closures, even as unemployment declined somewhat in August. Democrats advocate a $3 trillion package, while some Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are backing $1 trillion in spending. Among the flash points for the two parties is how the bills address deductions for state income taxes
Cornyn spoke with Texas Standard after returning to Washington, D.C., at the end of the Senate’s summer recess.
On differences between Senate Republicans’ coronavirus relief proposal and the most recent Democratic proposal:
This will include what I would call the bipartisan consensus items that were previously part of the Republican offer, which was called the HEALS Act. As you know, that was about $1 trillion worth of additional spending. Speaker, Pelosi and House Democrats countered that with a $3 trillion additional spending bill called the HEROES Act. But that’s on top of the $3 trillion we’ve already spent through four different pieces of legislation culminating in the CARES Act in late March. But I think there’s still work that needs to be done.
On the parts of the Democratic proposal to which he objects:
It includes a lot of non-coronavirus-related issues. For example, a tax cut for some of the wealthiest people in large blue states like New York and California. And it also includes a variety of different things to support the cannabis industry. It’s really a grab bag of a lot of different, unrelated things. What we need to do is recognize that we’re in a two-front war: one is the public health battle and the other is an economic recession caused by the mitigation efforts.
Read more about the Republican and Democratic stimulus proposals here.
On the status of continued supplemental unemployment payments:
We’re going to pay out another direct payment to individuals who are out of work or working reduced hours. And then there will be a reinstatement of the unemployment insurance supplement. The exact amount is not the subject of an agreement. But under the president’s executive order, now, it’s an additional $300 a week. There were some people receiving more money not working than to work, which is not obviously our intention to incentivize people to stay away from work if they can safely return, but merely to replace their lost wages.
On navigating the continued impact of the coronavirus:
The vaccine is probably not going to be here until the late, latter part of the year or the beginning of next year. So what we all need to do is take personal responsibility, which is to wash your hands, wear masks, socially distance and stay home when you’re sick. And what we’ve seen is that actually has a pretty impressive impact in terms of bringing down the spread of the virus. But that’s going to be the formula until we can get get that vaccine. I know Gov. Abbott and others are looking at what else we can do to reopen, to hopefully get people back to work and help grow our economy because we can’t sustain this situation forever where millions of Americans are out of work.
Read more about COVID-19 vaccine development and timeline here.
On the federal government’s response to the pandemic:
This pandemic is something that nobody saw coming, and it’s created an unprecedented experience. And it’s been dramatic and it’s been painful. And I really feel, particularly for people who are out of work and not receiving any income because of the mitigation efforts. And that’s why I voted for $3 trillion worth of emergency spending – something I would never do except under circumstances like this. … But I think there’s always room for criticism and finger-pointing; I don’t really find that very constructive at this point. I think people, by and large, have done the best they could under very difficult and unprecedented circumstances.
Read more here about warnings in 2017 about a possible widespread disease outbreak.
On whether he will campaign with President Trump:
I have not spent any time campaigning at all – well, virtually none. I am spending time traveling around the state, going to high schools and colleges and listening to the county judges and mayors and others tell me how what we have done has met their need, and where more needs to be done to save our state. That’s been where my focus is. This is the strangest reelection that I’ve ever been through because it involves very little campaigning. It’s basically doing the job I’ve already been elected to do.
On the national debt being greater than the gross domestic product for the first time since World War II:
We don’t have any choice. And it is very distressing, to be sure. But I view this as sort of the domestic equivalent of World War II, when we were trying to defeat Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, which was an existential threat to our country and to the rest of the world. We didn’t worry about deficits and debt. But this is not going away. This is not Monopoly money, and the historic effort that we’ve undertaken to try to keep the economy afloat and try to deal with the public health crisis has run up a huge tab. But now, after we get this under control, we need to turn on a bipartisan basis to addressing that debt and those deficits, no doubt about it.
On why he believes Democratic relief proposals are too expensive:
I don’t want to spend money giving millionaires and billionaires a tax cut. They want to reverse what we put in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act [of 2017], which capped the deductibility of state and local taxes. And as you know, some of these places like New York and San Francisco, they have much, much higher taxes than we have in Texas. So basically what happens is you have Texans subsidizing millionaires and billionaires.