U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, is back home and glad to be away from Washington, D.C., as he continues his efforts to protect workers, preserve air travel and public transit and bring more masks to American healthcare workers.
“We’re trying to craft a massive mitigation economic assistance package by telephone and text and email. None of the House members are in Washington. It’s an interesting process,” he said.
In an interview with The News-Review Friday, DeFazio said he hopes agreement on the package can be reached through unanimous consent. If there is a need for an in-person vote, he anticipates the representatives will return to Washington, D.C., however they can get there — perhaps by military transport if necessary — and enter the House chamber in small groups called in alphabetical order.
DeFazio is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he’s been addressing how to protect not just the airlines but also their workers. He said he does not want a repeat of what happened after 9/11 when unrestricted money went to airlines and regular workers lost their pensions while the CEOs received bonuses.
He said he recalled a 55-year-old flight attendant who had worked for 25 years, lost her pension and wound up having to work another 10 years just to have 40% of her pension guaranteed by the federal government. The CEO of her airline received a bonus.
That, DeFazio said, is not going to happen again.
“We’re going to send money that will be restricted solely for employees not for executives,” he said.
With people staying home, the aviation sector is losing $330 million a day, DeFazio said.
DeFazio said package transportation companies like Fed Ex and UPS are overwhelmed, so he’s working with passenger airlines to see if they can send planes to China to pick up personal protective equipment that’s in very short supply at American hospitals.
Amtrak will also need an infusion of cash to prevent it from going bankrupt, he said.
And truckers in many states need help because rest areas they need for sleeping on long trips are being closed.
“That’s critical that we keep cargo moving so that we can get goods into the stores and everything else, so we’re working on that problem too,” DeFazio said.
Democrats are also seeking aid for small businesses and workers in the gig economy, who aren’t currently eligible for unemployment benefits, he said.
DeFazio also said the administration needs to make use of its power under the National Defense Production Act to mandate companies make masks and ventilators in critically short supply across the country and here in Oregon.
“Or we could do it the way we did in World War II, which is we say, ‘OK GM if you convert one of your lines to making ventilators we’ll order 100,000 ventilators and even if we don’t need them we’ll buy them.’ ...I think the president has the executive authority to do that. I mean there’s got to be more of a sense of urgency about the lack of supplies,” DeFazio said.
He said he learned in a call with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Thursday that Oregon has received just 10% of the protective equipment it has requested.
“Theoretically somewhere out there in America is another 15%, but they can’t tell us where it is or when it will get here,” he said.
DeFazio said he’s been working on relaxing Medicare and Medicaid regulations and make it easier for patients to have telehealth appointments. The rules mandated the video health sessions be conducted over a secure, encrypted video.
“How many people in Douglas County or even in Roseburg have secure encrypted video capability?” he said.
He said he believes he’s fixed the problem for Medicare but is still working on Medicaid.
“We can’t have stupid bureaucratic rules that are slowing down sensible things we need to do in an unprecedented time,” he said.