New bill would give Congress a say in restarting the economy

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A new twist in the debate over who gets to open states' economies.

"I just don't see how one body in Washington can determine when we open this up," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, reiterating that states should decide when to end stay-at-home measures and get the economy going again. "Every state is different. Every region is different."

Scott and several other governors pushed back against the president who initially declared he'd make the decision, saying he had total authority.

The resistance seemed to work. The president is now walking back that position.

"I will then be authorizing each individual governor... of each individual state... to implement... a reopening," President Trump said.

"We do have to talk about opening the economy," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont. "Now is the time to plan how to do that."

Some members of Congress, including Welch, are now pitching federal legislation called the Reopen America Act to get states back in business.

"I want Governor Scott and other governors to know we believe in Washington that is our job. You're doing the hard work of implementation at the state level. The federal government has to have your back," Welch said.

It would create a federal-state collaboration. Welch says states would take the lead; the feds would pony up the cash. States would submit plans to reopen to Heath and Human Services for approval. They would get money to implement those plans, plus money for testing, tracing and quarantining, and prove they've lowered infection rates. The RAA also increases the production of tests, protective equipment, ventilators and treatments.

"The federal government has got to back up Vermont and the other states to implement that plan to safely and sustainably reopen their economy," Welch said. "The federal government is the only governmental entity that has the capacity as large as it is to pay for COVID emergency. Can't impose that burden on the states."

Governor Scott says science and health data will lead his decision-making, not Congress.

"We didn't have their input in some respects when we got into this and we don't need their perspective. We'll take their advice, but we don't need them telling us how to get out of this either," Scott said.

Welch maintains that any decisions made will be based on science and safeguards to stop transmission.

Right now, five Democrats are introducing the legislation, no Republicans. But Welch says he hopes the legislation will get bipartisan support.