Weekly Democratic Address
March 20, 2020
Hi, I’m Congressman Peter DeFazio. I represent the 4th District of Oregon and serve as Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
There’s no question we are in an unprecedented moment and fighting an unprecedented foe – COVID-19. People are worried about their health and that of their loved ones, the stability of their personal finances and the future of our economy. It’s important to remember we are all in this together. Right now, Americans are working at every level, around the clock, to make sure we get through this crisis and that we take care of each other.
I see many acts of kindness and compassion in my communities in Oregon every day. Health care workers and first responders are working incredibly hard and sacrificing so much to treat and protect patients. School districts are stepping up to make sure students can get “grab and go” meals. Neighbors are helping neighbors get the food and supplies they need. One car dealership in my district is providing drivers to deliver meals and groceries to senior citizens and others with limited mobility. And a local distillery started making hand sanitizer for the community for free.
That’s so important because at the end of the day, putting people first is how we get back on our feet. That’s why Democrats are fighting For the People – to ensure that workers, families and students come first – that they are at the core of any piece of emergency legislation coming from this Congress to address this crisis.
In a matter of days, Congress has passed two bills that put families first, providing funding to jump-start the development of a vaccine; assist states with response; manufacturing and distributing needed medical supplies, and help people get food, paid sick leave and more.
One of our next priorities must be providing badly-needed relief to keep goods and essential workers moving – something I’m focused on right now. There’s virtually no aspect of the transportation sector, and the tens of millions of jobs it supports, that hasn’t been hurt by this sudden change. As we adjust to a new reality, for now, of staying close to home, ridership on our public transit systems, commuter rail, Amtrak and airlines has plummeted – nearly zeroing out revenue streams.
But here’s the thing: transportation will always be critical to our nation – especially right now. We need to make sure medical professionals can get to work. That the critical medical supplies they need are delivered urgently and responsibly. That the grocery store employee – who’s working hard to keep the shelves stocked at your local store – has a way to work. We need to make sure truck drivers and airplanes can move the cargo that so many people need right now, from prescriptions, to toiletries, to food and critical medical supplies and canned goods.
We will get through this pandemic stronger than ever. I am committed to making sure we keep our country running in the short-term and to position ourselves for a strong and speedy recovery fueled by the investments we need to build a 21st-century transportation system and provide millions of jobs.
So Congress is having intense discussions about the best path forward right now to keep all parts of our transportation system moving. And one thing is certain: we cannot repeat the mistakes Congress made in the wake of 9/11 or 2008, when the federal government awarded big corporations virtually no-strings-attached relief. The results for corporate interests were great, while working families were largely left behind.
So, Democrats won’t support relief for corporations unless it comes with strict guardrails that ensure American workers get taken care of first. That means any relief goes first to paying workers and protecting their benefits, like health insurance, retirement accounts – not stock buybacks, not executive giveaways, not layoffs.
That means capping corporate pay, prohibiting bonuses, golden parachutes for CEOs.
That means making certain workers and everyday Americans have a seat at the table where important business decisions are being made so Main Street’s interests are fully considered – not just Wall Street’s. We can’t forget that most workers are the most valuable and important asset to a business of any size.
Of course, transportation is just part of the equation, and rest assured, I and my fellow Democratic colleagues in Congress are working hard to get relief to people who lose their jobs, small businesses that have been shuttered and those who are struggling to make ends meet.
This is an unprecedented crisis. It will have lasting impacts on society. But I know that when faced with a national crisis, Americans rise to the challenge. We already see it in our communities, and I know that together, we can come out of this safer, stronger and more unified than before.
In the meantime, I urge everyone to heed guidance from the CDC, your state and local public health officials.
Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick, practice social distancing, don’t buy more supplies than you need and if your community is advised to shelter in place, understand that experts are making that difficult call only because it’s absolutely necessary to protect you and your fellow citizens.
We will get through this.
Be healthy, be safe and be kind to each other.