U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker will return to Washington, DC, this week for the remaining days of a “lame duck” session during which lawmakers hope to reach a deal on a new COVID-19 relief package and pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open beyond Dec. 11.
Smucker, newly reelected to a third term, said he supports the Senate’s coronavirus relief package over the proposal brought forward by House Democrats. The House proposal -- called the HEROES Act -- is filled with “poison pills,” Smucker said, such as cutting funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and “bailing out” union pension plans. But he said the Senate and House should pass the relief policies they agree on and set aside issues not directly related to COVID-19.
“What I don’t understand is, we can have debate about those [Democratic proposals], but we should at least take the pieces that are in both bills and get it passed,” Smucker said. “People need help now, and they don’t want to wait until the new president’s in or wait until after the Georgia [Senate special] election. It’s something we have to get done now.”
The most important part of these packages is extending the Paycheck Protection Program to help small-to-midsize companies stay afloat until the coronavirus emergency is over, he said. There is also a need to extend unemployment payments, though Smucker said the amount should be less than the $600 in federal supplemental payments included in Congress’ first coronavirus package.
Smucker said he supports paying people who return to work as an incentive to get those who may be choosing to remain unemployed during the pandemic to get back to work and fill some of the district’s more than 8,000 open jobs.
He also said he’s open to an additional stimulus payment to citizens, though he would not specify how much that payment should be.
Smucker said he hopes the PPP and other portions of the relief package are more targeted this time around, prioritizing industries that lost the most revenue, such as tourism and hospitality.
“I’d love to see more targeted aid,” Smucker said. “It’d be a more efficient use of dollars.”
Accepting the president-elect
Smucker, who sat down with an LNP | LancasterOnline reporter last week before Thanksgiving, said he is readying himself for a White House without President Donald Trump.
Smucker has remained one of Trump’s biggest supporters in Congress, traveling with the president to Pennsylvania campaign stops and working to register more Republicans in Lancaster County.
But for the first time since he arrived in Congress in January 2017, Smucker will serve under a Democratic president. While he still believes Trump is within his rights to pursue legal challenges to the election results, he said he does not see a viable path for the president to overturn certified election results in multiple states.
“It’s hard to see any pathway right now,” Smucker said. “Do I wish we had one? Yes. Did I work hard to reelect President Trump? Yes. But will I be willing to work with Vice President Biden? Of course. We’ve got to work together and do what’s right for the American people.”
Smucker said he will continue to push policies supported by Trump to lower taxes and incentivize American jobs.
“It’s been great to have a president who I think really has not only had an impact legislatively on tax reform but really has tried in every department to become more responsive to people in the district,” Smucker said. “It’ll be different to have a president with different priorities.”
With Republicans picking up seats in the House, a narrower Democratic majority could present more opportunities for truly bipartisan work, Smucker said.
“It’s going to depend on how the president approaches bipartisan work with Republicans as well as the Democrats, assuming it’s President Biden,” he added.
Down ballot wins for Republicans in Pennsylvania and across the country show Americans are rejecting far-left ideas pushed by members of the Democratic party, he said.
But should Trump concede? Smucker said he thinks the president should. But Smucker noted that concessions don’t always happen, noting that he never received a call from his 2020 opponent, Democrat Sarah Hammond.
“A concession doesn’t mean anything, there’s going to be a peaceful transition of power regardless,” Smucker said. “At some point there will be [a concession] I think, but that’s going to be up to him.”
Smucker will receive his committee assignments closer to the start of the 117th Congress legislative session, but said he plans to focus on jobs-oriented issues like career and technical education, workforce development and apprenticeships.
COVID-19 response and vaccine
The next Congress, which will be sworn in on Jan. 3, will immediately be faced with helping the federal government and states manage the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and reviving an economy battered by the pandemic.
President Trump’s coronavirus response team House Republicans last week, Smucker said, informing lawmakers that a vaccine will begin being allocated within the next few weeks, immediately after approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Through the Operation Warpspeed effort, 100 million vaccine does are “ready to go,” and Pennsylvania will receive millions of them within the next month, based on its population size, he said.
As soon as he is offered a vaccine, Smucker said he will get it.
“It‘ll be safe,” he said. “Despite being developed in record time, I’ve talked to some really good doctors who understand that there’s nothing unusual about this vaccine.”