Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said Wednesday that he is not yet convinced that Americans need more federal aid to deal with the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Zoom videoconference organized by the Tulsa Regional Chamber, Inhofe said a package being put forward by House Democrats this week is too costly, too ideological, and too premature.
"Nancy Pelosi came dancing in and decided that she wanted to have a fourth round," Inhofe said. "So far we've spent $3 trillion, and she thought it would be fair to spend $3 trillion more."
Inhofe said he took exception with some of the provisions included in the Democratic proposal.
"What she [Pelosi] had, quite frankly, is a liberal agenda," Inhofe said. "She wanted to ease the immigration laws to allow people to stay here longer. The food stamp program, that has been cleaned up; this president has done a good job on that. She wants to take the work requirements out of that."
(On immigration, the aid package would grant temporary protection from deportation for workers deemed essential and expedite visas for immigrant physicians, among other provisions. The package would, in fact, waive work requirements for SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.)
Inhofe also said the timing doesn't make sense, and that the federal government shouldn't provide any additional assistance beyond what's already been passed until a thorough review.
"There's no reason to do this, if we're going to do it at all, until we see what we've done so far," he said. "I mean, right now, we have some unemployment programs that go on until the end of July. We won't know until the end of July just what our needs are going to be. It would not be responsible, in my opinion, to do that in advance of that."
Mike Neal, CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, asked Inhofe about reports he's heard from concerned local business owners.
"Many of them are having challenges getting their laid off workers, or furloughed workers, to come back to work because they're enjoying those accelerated federal unemployment benefits," Neal said. "It's a great benefit for those individuals, but when the companies are trying to get them to return to work so that they can try to keep their doors open and survive, that is proving in some instances to be a little bit of a hindrance."
"It's totally unacceptable," Inhofe said, "to have people at a place where government is paying them more than working. That's against everything we stand for."
"We're going to do everything we can to keep that from happening," Inhofe said.
Inhofe said he has spoken with Oklahomans about their current struggles.
"Look, I know there are people shaking their heads right now at the comments I just made, because they're thinking, 'If Inhofe only knew how we're hurting right now...'" Inhofe said. "I do know, because we have talked to people."
"But I still think that in order for us to know what is going to be the greatest need, what should the amount be, I would rather be looking at it in terms of, let's wait and see until, probably, at least the Fourth of July recess," Inhofe said.
Regarding the House Democrats' proposal, "it's not going to pass, so don't worry about that," Inhofe said.
Inhofe's remarks Wednesday bring him in line with the other half of the Oklahoma delegation to the Senate. Sen James Lankford, a fellow Republican, suggested last month, on a call also hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber, that the federal unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act could be too generous for Oklahomans out of work due to the pandemic.