The House on Thursday approved a $55 billion Covid-19 aid package for restaurants and other businesses still affected by the pandemic, but the legislation has little chance of clearing the Senate.
The bill passed by a vote of 223-203. Just six Republicans joined with 217 Democrats in backing the measure, which would provide $42 billion in aid for restaurants and $13 billion for other hard-hit industries such as gyms and concert venues.
Supporters said that the new money was necessary because the original $28.6 billion Restaurant Relief Fund provided by Democrats as part of their 2021 pandemic bill was depleted after only one-third of applicants had received funds. The program got more than 278,000 applications, for a total of more than $72 billion. More than 170,000 eligible applicants did not get aid.
“We under-appropriated to begin with,” Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) told Roll Call last week. “So this is about a make-good and not picking winners and losers. And that notion is picking up some steam, recognizing this is not a prospective COVID relief bill. This is a retrospective make-good.”
Budget watchers said the bill, which hasn’t yet been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, appears to be mostly deficit-financed. “The government has already authorized over $6 trillion of Covid relief. With inflation surging, debt near record highs, and unemployment at pre-pandemic levels, now is not the time for more. Instead, we should be lowering deficits to help the Federal Reserve get inflation back under control,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which promotes deficit reduction. “Any new spending should be focused on addressing the pandemic itself, and should be fully offset so as not to increase deficits or worsen inflation.”
Democrats argued that the measure will be paid for in part by recouping funds obtained fraudulently from the Paycheck Protection Program.
The bottom line: Restaurants that qualified for aid but didn’t get it are likely going to be left waiting. “The bill’s chances in the Senate are slim,” Politico says. “A group of bipartisan senators have been working on their own package that they hope to reconcile with the House version, though it would need to win support from at least 10 Senate Republicans.”