AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The number of cases of coronavirus in the U.S. is going up every day, and another number has shot up as well - the number of people who have lost their jobs. More than 3 million people filed for unemployment last week alone. The Senate passed a record-breaking economic relief package last night worth roughly $2 trillion, and House leadership says they will vote on the package tomorrow. The bill is expected to pass.
And joining us now to talk about the legislation is Republican Congressman Gary Palmer of Alabama. He's the Republican Policy Committee Chairman.
GARY PALMER: Glad to be on with you.
CHANG: So how do you plan to vote on this relief package?
PALMER: I'll vote for it.
CHANG: All right. So for any of your colleagues who are still on the fence, what would your message be to them?
PALMER: Well, there's no such thing as a perfect bill. But, well, we're facing a crisis unlike anything we've ever seen before. You just mentioned in the lead-in that there were 3 million people who filed for unemployment.
PALMER: And we have - we've got to address that. And I think as much as I hate to do it with an appropriations bill this large, I think it's something that we've got to do.
CHANG: Well, as you say, no bill is perfect, but looking at the specifics of this particular legislation, what do you think it does get right?
PALMER: Well, I think it helps small businesses keep their doors open, figuratively at least, in the sense that it will allow them to retain their workforce, and that's the biggest part of this. It also helps them pay the rent and utilities and other operating expenses. It's also going to help the bigger companies keep their businesses going and keep more people on the payroll.
CHANG: What about any concerns that you might have about the bill as it exists now?
PALMER: I don't want to come across as partisan, but I don't understand why we had to put funding in for things that are totally unrelated to dealing with this crisis and particularly when there's such a desperate need in some of the municipalities and particularly the smaller municipalities and with the health care.
CHANG: What do you think of as unrelated that is in this bill?
PALMER: Well, like the $25 million for funding for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. We could have had that discussion at a different time - things like that. But one of the main things that is driving this is the concern of how this is going to impact our hospitals, whether or not they'll be overwhelmed. We're going to have to figure out ways to provide bed space, and there's talk about converting motels...
PALMER: ...Or hotels that right now are not...
CHANG: Convention centers.
PALMER: Yeah, things like that.
CHANG: Are you suggesting that you don't think this bill provides enough for hospitals and that a further relief package may be needed down the road?
PALMER: I don't know that yet. I'm hoping that as the weather warms up and, hopefully, some of these therapeutic drugs come into play, that there's going to be less of a need for hospitalization. And I think the extreme measures that a lot of places are taking to - for social isolation and separation, that sort of thing, can bring that curve down. I think we can avoid what's happened in Italy.
CHANG: Let me ask you - because unemployment numbers came out today. This package does expand unemployment insurance to many people who didn't get it before. It also increases unemployment benefits. It makes these benefits last for a longer period of time. Do you think it goes far enough?
PALMER: Well, again, I think we need to get through the next two or three months to determine that. And the people who were laid off, the companies who laid them off would not be eligible for some of these loans, so they may have to reconsider and bring those folks back on so that they're eligible for the loans. But I think we've got to give it at least a couple of months. I don't think we need to drive the...
CHANG: You think Congress should wait at least two to three months before they consider another relief package.
PALMER: I think we need to see how things turn out before we go any farther off that fiscal cliff that we're already diving off of.
CHANG: Let's talk a little bit about that. I mean, you are a former member of the House Freedom Caucus, a caucus that's known to be fiscal conservatives, a caucus that does not like deficit spending. How much of that figures into whether you would support not only this particular package but also future packages, future relief packages? Does it weigh heavily?
PALMER: Well, I've already said that - yeah. I've already said that I'm going to support this...
PALMER: ...Package. I'm going to put the people interests ahead of all these other interests. But I do think that we've got to try to find a balance here, and we don't put ourselves in such a bad place that the economy can't recover.
CHANG: If there is evidence out there that more relief is needed, would you be willing to rack up the deficit?
PALMER: If it is absolutely needed, I think - our choices are very limited. I think we've got to do what we can to get the country back on its feet.
CHANG: That is Republican Congressman Gary Palmer of Alabama.
Thank you very much for spending some time to talk with us today.
PALMER: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.