Days after mocking public health experts' warning about the coming spread of the coronavirus by wearing a gas mask on the House floor, Rep. Matt Gaetz is benefiting from the paid sick leave granted to all members of Congress as he self-quarantines following potential exposure to the virus.
Gaetz quarantined himself on March 9 after attending the Conservative Political Action Conference, where at least one attendee tested positive for the coronavirus. Gaetz has since tested negative for the respiratory illness, but is continuing the quarantine "in an abundance of caution," while collecting his regular paycheck as part of his $174,000 yearly salary.
As Lee Fang reported for The Intercept, Gaetz voted for legislation as a state lawmaker in Florida in 2013 which barred cities and counties from enacting paid sick leave policies. The law is among many policies at the federal and state level which have contributed to a lack of paid sick leave for an estimated 33.6 million Americans.
Members of Congress can take unlimited paid sick leave, missing votes and social distancing, while collecting a $174k salary. They do so while carrying water for business lobbyists and voting down even minimum paid sick leave rights for Americans https://t.co/7bqvrSEnUp
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) March 12, 2020
"Members of Congress get paid a salary of $174,000 or more no matter what. They do not have to vote or be present in D.C., and Gaetz has missed votes all week," Fang wrote. "Despite the national push for Americans to practice social distancing to curb spread of the coronavirus, many workers do not have the option to take paid sick leave or work remotely, and must continue to travel to work."
House and Senate Democrats have introduced bills this week to guarantee emergency paid sick leave to Americans—scrambling, as the virus has spread to more than 1,700 people in confirmed cases around the country, to enact policies which many other industrialized nations have had in place for years. Republicans blocked the legislation, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calling the House bill an "ideological wish list" and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying the legislation would be burdensome for business owners.
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In the absence of paid sick leave, public health officials have called on employers to relax their sick leave policies to help workers avoid public transportation and crowds, to slow the spread of the coronavirus and keep the U.S. healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
On social media, critics angrily pointed out the irony of Gaetz's paid time off amid his and his party's refusal to help mitigate the burgeoning public health emergency by affording working Americans the same right.
Matt Gaetz is the asshole GOP rep who showed up to Congress in a gas mask to mock Coronavirus fears. He then voted to deny workers paid sick leave. He is currently in self-quarantine, afraid he came into contact with the virus, on paid sick leave.https://t.co/oU6ATownTb
— Brian Merchant (@bcmerchant) March 13, 2020
Definite contender for the biggest piece of shit in the sewer
— Ida Tarbell (@amywestervelt) March 13, 2020
Gaetz, Fang noted, is far from the only Republican who actively worked to ensure working Americans in their states do not have the right to stay home from work when ill.
"When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, one of the first laws he signed was a bill to make it illegal for cities like South Bend and Indianapolis to enact paid sick leave for its residents," Fang tweeted.