Smith defends vote against COVID-19 relief proposal

Jason Smith

Timing and substance drove Southeast Missouri's congressman to vote against a coronavirus relief package.

Republican 8th District Rep. Jason Smith said the 110-page bill landed on his desk a half hour before the vote, just after midnight early Saturday morning.

"It was such a rushed product," the Salem, Missouri, representative said in a telephone interview Sunday. "It needs lots of improvements. I'm hoping the Senate will make changes to the bill and bring it back to the House."

Smith said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hashed out details of the bill, which provides 14 days of paid sick leave to some workers among other emergency funding to fight the spreading virus responsible for the COVID-19 illness. The congressman contended the paid leave mechanism contains "generous loopholes" to large employers with more than 500 workers, such as Walmart and Amazon.

"They can't say they are trying to help the little guy just getting paid minimum wage who works at these large companies," he said.

Kathy Ellis

Smith also pointed to previous legislation providing more than $8 billion in virus-related relief and action taken by President Donald Trump, which freed up $50 billion for state and local governments to battle the outbreak.

"No one wants to vote against something like this. We are in uncertain times. But you just can't vote on legislation because Nancy Pelosi and Steve Mnuchin say it's fine," he said.

Democrat Kathy Ellis of Festus, Missouri, who plans to run against Smith in November, challenged his interpretation of the legislation, intimating his "no" vote served corporate interests.

"I'm disappointed, but not surprised, to see that Jason Smith voted against H.R. 6201, which provides paid emergency sick leave and free testing in light of the threat of coronavirus," she said in a release. "Since Smith was elected in 2013, he's made it clear that he only works on behalf of his corporate donors, and his vote against working people today makes that even clearer."

When asked to assess federal, state and local government response to the virus outbreak, Smith said America has responded in a fundamentally different way than some other countries.

"We are using a whole-country approach. Our system of federalism, in my opinion, is working," he noted. "We have effective response coming from state and local governments. We are approaching this in terms of what is best for the locality, and I think the best government is that closest to the people."

The bill passed 363-40.