The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for independent restaurants, which have been forced to lay off employees or even permanently close amid stay-at-home orders imposed and reimposed in several states. Restaurateur Tom Colicchio thinks that unless the federal government steps in, "we're looking at an extinction-level event for restaurants."
"So many restaurants are not going to get through this. And a lot of restaurants are just hanging on to see what the government will do," Colicchio told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on "The Takeout" podcast this week. "Unfortunately, right now the Senate decided that it was best to take a Thanksgiving break as opposed to addressing the needs of the American people."
The Senate adjourned for the Thanksgiving holiday on Wednesday, and will not return to Washington until November 30.
Highlights from this week's episode:
- Tom Colicchio on the Senate adjourning without addressing coronavirus relief: "Unfortunately, right now the Senate decided that it was best to take a Thanksgiving break as opposed to addressing the needs of the American people."
- Believes bipartisan RESTAURANTS Act would pass: "I'm convinced that if the House and the Senate voted on this through regular order, like we used to, like the 'Schoolhouse Rock' taught us all when we were kids, it would pass easily."
- Millions working in the restaurant industry affected by the pandemic: "The whole ecosystem is going to be affected by this. It's not just a bunch of restaurateurs."
- Georgia Senate elections: "Mitch McConnell wants to stay in power and the only way he stays in power is to win both seats in [Georgia], and if it appears that he's just sitting on his hands, and doing nothing, good luck with that."
Colicchio, who is on the leadership team of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, expressed his support for the RESTAURANTS Act, a bipartisan bill that would establish a $120 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund to offer relief to restaurants and bars. The bill was introduced by Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer in the House and Republican Senator Roger Wicker in the Senate.
The bill is a part of the HEROES Act, a massive relief bill passed by the House, but Colicchio said he thinks it could also pass as a standalone bill in both Houses. Senate Republicans have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the HEROES Act.
"I'm convinced that if the House and the Senate voted on this through regular order, like we used to, like the 'Schoolhouse Rock' taught us all when we were kids, it would pass easily," Colicchio said.
He compared the restaurant industry to the airline industry, which has also sought support from the federal government.
"We were forced to close. The airlines were never forced to close," Colicchio said, noting that millions of people are employed by restaurants or have jobs related to the food industry. "The whole ecosystem is going to be affected by this. It's not just a bunch of restaurateurs."
Colicchio said that he believed the upcoming Senate runoff elections in Georgia could be a factor in whether Congress would pass aid for restaurants. The races are closely watched by both parties, since the outcome will determine who holds the majority in the Senate.
"Mitch McConnell wants to stay in power and the only way he stays in power is to win both seats in [Georgia], and if it appears that he's just sitting on his hands, and doing nothing, good luck with that," Colicchio said, referring to the Senate majority leader. "I just think from a strategic standpoint, I don't see how Republicans think that they're going to possibly hold on to these two seats if they do nothing for the American people."
Colicchio added that Atlanta, the state's capital, is a hub for restaurants and has many people employed in the industry.
"There just seems to be an indifference to helping so many people that are struggling," Colicchio said.
For more of Major's conversation with Colicchio, download "The Takeout" podcast on Art19, iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify and Stitcher. New episodes are available every Friday morning. Also, you can watch "The Takeout" on CBSN Friday at 5pm, 9pm, and 12am ET and Saturday at 1pm, 9pm, and 12am ET. For a full archive of "The Takeout" episodes, visit www.takeoutpodcast.com. And you can listen to "The Takeout" on select CBS News Radio affiliates (check your local listings).
Producers: Arden Farhi, Jamie Benson, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson
CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin, Julia Boccagno and Grace Segers
Show email: TakeoutPodcast@cbsnews.com