WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shut the door Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks, declaring Congress has provided enough pandemic aid as he blocked another attempt by Democrats to force a vote.
The GOP leader appeared unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Trump and even some fellow Republican senators who demanded a vote. Trump wants the recently approved $600 in aid increased threefold. But McConnell dismissed the idea of bigger “survival checks,” saying the money would go to plenty of American households that don’t need it.
McConnell’s refusal to act means the extra relief Trump wanted is all but dead.
“We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago,” McConnell said, referring to the year-end package Trump signed.
“If specific, struggling households still need more help,” McConnell said, the Senate will consider “smart targeted aid. Not another firehose of borrowed money.”
The showdown between the president and his Republican Party over the $2,000 checks has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session.
It’s one last standoff, together with the override of Trump’s veto of a sweeping defense bill, that will punctuate the president’s final days and deepen the GOP’s divide between its new wing of Trump-styled populists and what had been mainstay conservative views against government spending.
Trump has been berating the GOP leaders, and tweeted, “$2000 ASAP!”
For a second straight day, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tried to force a vote on the bill approved by the House that met Trump’s demand for the $2,000 checks.
“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the checks – the $2,000 checks desperately needed by so many American families,” Schumer said.
The roadblock appears insurmountable. Most GOP senators seemed to accept the inaction even as a growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections Jan. 5 in Georgia, agreed with Trump’s demand.
Congress had settled on $600 payments in a compromise over the year-end relief bill Trump signed into law. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said those checks will begin to go out this week.
With the Georgia Senate runoff elections days away, leading Republicans warned that the GOP’s refusal to provide more aid could jeopardize the outcome.
“The Senate Republicans risk throwing away two seats and control of the Senate,” Newt Gingrich, the former congressional leader, told Fox News. He called on Senate Republicans to “get a grip and not try to play cute parliamentary games with the president’s $2,000 payment.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said: “These Republicans in the Senate seem to have an endless tolerance for other people’s sadness.”
McConnell earlier unveiled a bill loaded with Trump’s other priorities as a possible off-ramp for the standoff. It included the $2,000 checks as well as a repeal of protections for tech companies like Facebook or Twitter under Section 230 of a communications law. It also tacked on the establishment of a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 presidential election Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden.
Democrats opposed that approach, and it does not have enough support to pass the Senate.
No votes on additional aid are scheduled.
For McConnell, the procedural moves allowed him to check the box over the commitments he made when Trump was refusing to sign off on the year-end package last weekend.
Meanwhile, liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the $2,000 relief checks are blocking action on the defense bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans.
Sanders thundered on the floor that McConnell should call residents in the GOP leader’s home state of Kentucky “and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check.”
Joining Trump, GOP Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida are pushing the party in the president’s direction.
Other Republicans panned the bigger checks, saying the nearly $400 billion price was too high, the relief is not targeted to those in need and Washington has already dispatched ample sums on COVID aid.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., tweeted that he would block the House bill. He said “blindly borrowing” billions “so we can send $2,000 checks to millions of people who haven’t lost any income is terrible policy.”
As one of three cardiac surgeons affiliated with Med Center Health’s Heart Institute, Dr. Paul Moore has seen firsthand how cardiac care has evolved and turned Bowling Green into a hub for treating heart disease.
“We’re doing more than 400 open-heart surgical procedures per year,” Moore said. “We have three busy heart surgeons, and we’re looking for a fourth.”
Moore also knows how Bowling Green achieved its status as a center for cardiac care, drawing patients from throughout southcentral Kentucky who not that long ago were commuting to Nashville or Louisville for care.
It started with Dr. Gene Harston, a cardiologist who came to Bowling Green in the 1980s and was instrumental in building the foundation for Moore’s busy practice.
“If it weren’t for him (Harston), we wouldn’t have near the cardiac program we have now,” Moore said. “He was a visionary who was instrumental in building cardiac care in Bowling Green.”
Harston, 71, can now reflect on a career in cardiology that started when he decided in 1969 to study medicine at Vanderbilt University.
Harston last week treated his last patient at the Harston Heart Clinic he established 10 years ago in his hometown of Scottsville, opting to retire after nearly 50 years in medicine.
Much of those five decades were spent building the foundation for cardiac care in Bowling Green.
Harston, who said a college calculus course convinced him to switch his major from math to pre-medicine, was steered toward cardiology at Vanderbilt.
“I met some people from Johns Hopkins University who got me interested in cardiology,” he said. “I came back to Vanderbilt for training.”
Eventually, Harston’s career path led him to Bowling Green, where he worked with fellow cardiologists Dr. John Fitts and Dr. K.G. Sahetya while also trying to get an open-heart surgery program started locally.
It was a lengthy process that involved recruiting heart surgeons and making the case to state officials in Frankfort that Bowling Green needed such services.
“It took some time to get it set up here,” Harston said. “You have to go before a board in Frankfort and show that there’s a need. It takes time to build that up.”
In the meantime, Harston was building his cardiology practice and taking some patients to Nashville for such procedures as angioplasty.
“When he came, there was hardly anybody doing dye studies or cardiac catheterizations,” said Dr. Jack Glasser, a family medicine specialist and longtime friend of Harston’s. “He could do those procedures, and he was very good at it. He saved a lot of lives.”
Sahetya remembers Harston more for his dedication to patients than for his technical expertise.
“His patients liked him, and he served them very well,” Sahetya said. “He displayed a lot of excellence and dedication.”
Those patients are what Harston said he will miss most about practicing medicine. “I’d say we saw about 1,000 patients per year,” Harston said. “We would see patients for blood pressure problems or palpitations. We would see 20 to 30 per day many times.”
Both in Bowling Green and at the Scottsville clinic he started 10 years ago, Harston has formed bonds with those patients that are hard to break.
“It has sort of been bittersweet,” he said. “I know I’m going to miss seeing patients that I’ve seen for more than 25 years. Some are still going 30 years after open-heart surgery.
“Those patient relationships are very rewarding. They become friends. It’s hard to say goodbye to patients I’ve known for so long.”
Not that Harston has any plans to abandon his southcentral Kentucky roots. Sahetya said he plans to establish a presence in Scottsville to continue seeing Harston’s patients, and Harston has plans to continue using his medical skills.
“I hope to do some volunteer work and go on more medical missionary trips,” said Harston, a longtime member of Eastwood Baptist Church. “I’ve been to South Africa, Ecuador and Venezuela. Our church has been all over the world. I hope to still be able to help people.”
Glasser doesn’t expect his friend to be idle in retirement.
“He loves his patients, but his family and his church come first for him,” Glasser said. “He also has a lot of hobbies. I’ve played golf with him for several years, and he loves hunting and fishing.
“He’s trying to convince me to retire so we can play golf more often.”
GLASGOW – The Glasgow Electric Plant Board has agreed to hire a Lexington-based law firm to look into the possibility of receiving an additional 90 days to review a flexibility agreement that is part of a 20-year contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The EPB originally had 90 days to consider the flexibility agreement, but it was signed without the full board getting an opportunity to review it.
In a letter to Glasgow attorney Ron Hampton, who represents the EPB, the TVA said flexibility agreements enable local public companies, such as the EPB, to generate part of their own energy and provide generation services to customers.
The TVA noted it doesn’t have an “ ... obligation under the LTA (long-term agreement) to provide another review window and will not provide Glasgow EPB an additional 90-day window for reviewing the flexibility solution.”
Board member Libby Short said during the EPB’s Dec. 22 meeting that having a 20-year contract with an energy provider is standard practice and that the EPB receives several benefits under such a contract.
One benefit is a 3.1% monthly rebate, which Short said is used to help people in the community. Another benefit is allowing the EPB to generate 3% to 5% of its own power.
“What is so bad about the 20-year contract or the flexibility agreement itself? I mean it’s kind of a win-win every way you go,” Short said.
Board Chairman D.T. Froedge said the flexibility agreement locks the EPB into the 20-year contract.
“Nobody knows what the cost of power from TVA or any other supplier is going to be in 20 years. Not having an option to get out if things drastically change is a disaster waiting to happen,” Froedge said.
While other TVA distributors have signed 20-year contracts with TVA, Froedge said most of them don’t have an option for an alternate source of power.
“Glasgow happens to be on the periphery of TVA’s area and if the price of power went up drastically, Glasgow would have options,” he said.
Short said the board needs to take into consideration everything TVA is doing for the community as far as economic development.
TVA helped lure Contemporary Amperex Technology Kentucky LLC to Glasgow. CATL, which manufactures ion batteries for the automotive industry, acquired the former LSC Communications Inc. property on Donnelley Drive.
“That’s a little over $100 million investment within our community. It’s the largest opportunity we’ve had in this community in over 40 years and it’s the largest manufacturing investment in the state of Kentucky this year,” board member Tag Taylor said.
TVA will provide up to $3 million in incentives to CATL. By having TVA as a partner, the company will generate some of the power it will use through renewable energy resources that TVA is able to provide, he said.
CATL will assemble its product at the Donnelley Drive location. Two other manufacturing companies plan to locate in Glasgow, and those companies will provide the raw materials to CATL for the manufacture of its ion batteries. That could potentially mean up to 700 new jobs in addition to the jobs created by CATL, Taylor said.
The additional two companies will be at the new industrial park on New Bowling Green Road that is being developed by the Barren County Economic Authority.
New Bowling Green Road will be widened to four lanes from Wright Implement to the new industrial park just past Farmers Regional Livestock Market of Glasgow LLC. The road project was announced by Jim Gray, state transportation secretary, in November.
“The state of Kentucky is paying for that because TVA has stepped up and said they are going to purchase the industrial park for us,” Taylor said. “The benefits TVA gives us by being a partner with them through the Electric Plant Board far outweigh whatever benefits we may have, and I don’t think there are any ... by switching to someone else. This board could have single-handedly fouled the largest deal we’ve had in Barren County since the 1970s. This board could have done that, so the agreement was signed, the flexibility agreement was executed.”
Board member Marlin Witcher asked if CATL would have gone somewhere else if the EPB didn’t have the 20-year contract with TVA.
“Yes,” Taylor replied.
EPB Superintendent William Ray was involved in negotiations with CATL and said he sold the company on two things. One was having TVA as an energy partner so it can manufacture its product with renewable energy.
The other was a customized rate that will use the flexibility agreement to allow the EPB to purchase power as CATL tests its batteries and discharges them onto the power grid.
“I don’t know since they’ve already bought the property whether we could mess up the deal, but this is going to be considered disingenuous and untrustworthy of the city of Glasgow, and in particular the Glasgow Electric Plant Board, to be making this kind of move when they have already been assured these pieces are in place,” Ray said.
Board member Glenn Pritchard said he was concerned that the flexibility agreement was signed without the entire board having the opportunity to review it.
The flexibility agreement was signed while Taylor was chairman.
“The flexibility agreement was germane to the original agreement. It didn’t need board approval. It was germane to the original agreement and the terms presented within it were better than the terms we had gotten preliminary,” Taylor said.
If anything had been substantially different, Taylor said the issue would have been brought before the board. The board had already agreed to sign the 20-year contract with TVA before the flexibility agreement had been presented, he said.
Taylor encouraged the board to read the contract to see that there are cost curtailments included.
“It says it as plain as day,” he said. “... The long-term fears that you are trying to alleviate here by no means outweigh the short-term benefits we have by being partners with TVA.”
The board voted 3-2 to hire the Lexington-based law firm to look into restoring a 90-day consideration period for a flexibility option to the 20-year contract with the TVA.
In other business, the EPB approved the following changes to cable television rates: Broadcast tier – increase of $6.10 per month to $19.45 per month from $13.35 per month; Essential tier – increase of $4.90 per month to $38 per month from $34 per month; and Premier tier – increase of $1.75 per month from $12.50 per month to $14.25 per month.