Too Little, Too Late? Covid Relief Bill Meets Its Critics
As expected, the House and Senate both passed the $900 billion coronavirus relief package and a $1.4 trillion catchall spending bill on Monday night.
The House approved the measures by a 359-53 vote. The Senate tally was 92-6, with six Republicans voting against the bill: Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rick Scott of Florida.
President Trump signed a stopgap spending bill passed by Congress to keep the government open until December 28, the White House said. The stopgap allows time for the paperwork on the massive package approved by Congress on Monday night to be processed and sent to the White House for Trump to sign into law.
At nearly 5,593 pages, the bill is believed to be the longest ever passed by Congress, and the Covid relief measure is the second largest emergency spending package ever, behind only the Cares Act passed in March. You can read more about the behind-the-scenes process that led to the stimulus deal finally getting done at The New York Times, The Washington Post or Politico.
In all, the federal response to the pandemic now totals nearly $4 trillion, Politico notes — and still more may be needed, as lawmakers in both parties acknowledged that the latest legislation was far from perfect and some economists warn that it may have been too little or come too late to prevent a double-dip recession.
“The legislation was passed too late, is too limited, and expires too soon to offset the adverse economic impact caused by the intensification of the pandemic and the resulting pullback by the public and lockdowns around the economy in the current quarter,” wrote Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at consulting firm RSM. “As a result, the aid package is not a stimulus bill, it is a rescue bill, and the economy will likely require another round of aid as early as next year.”
The process was ridiculous: More than a few lawmakers in both parties expressed frustration with the process — and the fact that after months of delay they were given just hours to consider a massive piece of legislation. "Members of Congress have not read this bill. It's over 5000 pages, arrived at 2pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours,” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “This isn't governance. It's hostage-taking."
And Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott said in a statement: “Early this afternoon, we were finally provided the text of the combined $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and $900 billion COVID relief bill. It is almost 5,600 pages long and we’re expected to vote on it tonight. Who in their right mind thinks that this is a responsible way of governing?”
Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that the overall process took far too long: “We should have funded the government before the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, and we should have passed economic relief before that. The time wasted on political bickering cost jobs and it may have cost lives.”
She also said that it was unfortunate that lawmakers had to add “extraneous measures like wasteful tax extenders, clean energy tax credits, and a 100 percent tax deduction for business meals” to get a deal done: “While a crisis like this is exactly the right time for the government to borrow, these unnecessary political pet projects waste vital emergency funds and could undermine support for crisis response efforts in the future.”
Bloomberg’s Editorial Board summed it up neatly: “From start to finish, this effort has followed every rubric of how not to run a government. … The deal is a lot better than nothing. It will do for now. But Congress really ought to conduct its affairs with some small semblance of competence — and at the earliest opportunity, the Biden administration needs to look afresh at further relief measures."
What about the deficit? Some Republicans also objected to the deficit-increasing effects of the legislation, even as other budget analysts have said that the U.S. can and should borrow now to address the coronavirus crisis.
Scott complained that “in classic Washington style, vital programs are being attached to an omnibus spending bill that mortgages our children and grandchildren’s futures without even giving members a chance to read it. We are not spending money we have in the bank or anticipate we will collect in taxes. Washington doesn’t seem to understand that new spending today will be paid for by increased federal debt and result in a tax increase on families down the road.”
Biden: We're Going to Need More Stimulus Soon
President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday praised Congress for passing the relief bill, but he said the package is “far from perfect” and reiterated that he sees it as just a “down payment” on an additional aid package he wants to pass after he takes office.
“We have a lot more work to do. Early next year I will put before the Congress my plans for what comes next,” he said. “We will need more help to fully distribute the vaccine. We need more testing in order to reopen our schools. We need more funding to help firefighters and police, many of whom are being laid off. The same with nurses risking their lives on the frontlines. The same for the millions of families hurting and unable to put food on the table or pay rent or a mortgage.”
Asked by a reporter if he would seek to provide a third round of direct payments, Biden said yes, but that the amount would be “a negotiating issue.”
Congressional leaders have said they expect to consider another Covid relief bill early next year. “I would hope that as we see the need for what we have done in this nearly $900 billion legislation that we’ll vote on today, that everyone understands it’s a first step,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said on the House floor Monday.
Biden said that American families suffering the hardships caused by the virus — including Republicans — will push their representatives in Congress to work with him to provide more help.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated Monday that he will continue to press for liability protections for businesses, hospitals and schools. "I think liability relief is really important,” McConnell told Fox News on Monday. “And if there is another coronavirus relief bill after the first year of the year, I'm going to insist that liability protection for these universities and healthcare providers is a part of it.”
Airlines Get $15 Billion in Aid — or $500,000 for Each Rehired Worker
The new Covid-19 relief package will give U.S. airlines $15 billion, with the money intended to be used to bring about 32,000 workers back onto payrolls.
But the airline business is in terrible shape thanks to the virus, with traffic down by two-thirds, and the industry doesn’t see it coming back any time soon, which means many of those rehired workers could lose their jobs again, perhaps as soon as March.
“That’s right: The American taxpayer is putting up almost $500,000 for each airline worker to have three months worth of employment,” says Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera in an op-ed piece Tuesday.
The major players in the airline industry seem to have enough capital to weather the downturn on their own, Nocera says: “United Airlines Holdings Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc., which laid off the vast majority of those 32,000 employees, are both burning between $25 million and $30 million in cash a day — but each has more than $15 billion in liquidity.”
The remarkable level of support for a relatively small group of multi-billion-dollar companies may have something to do with their political influence in Washington, Nocera says, not least their ability to hire lobbyists.
Number of the Day: 3 Million
We all know 2020 has been a horrible year. It’s also the deadliest in U.S. history, with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time ever.
“Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months. But preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year, or at least 400,000 more than in 2019,” Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press reports. “U.S. deaths increase most years, so some annual rise in fatalities is expected. But the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15%, and could go higher once all the deaths from this month are counted.” That’s the largest year-over-year jump since 1918, when deaths rose 46% as World War I and the flu pandemic took hundreds of thousands of lives.
Congress Plans Post-Christmas Session to Try to Override Trump Veto
President Trump has announced that he plans to veto the $741 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed with veto-proof majorities earlier this month.
The annual bill, which has passed in each of the past 59 years, defines spending levels and key policies for the Department of Defense. Trump has criticized this year’s version on numerous counts, including its failure to repeal legal protections for tech firms and its requirement that the names of Confederate leaders be removed from military bases.
Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman reported Tuesday that the president is showing no signs of changing his mind. “Aides and congressional allies have made it clear to Trump that his veto is likely to be overridden, and have tried to get him to back off, but he does not at all appear moved by their pleas,” they wrote.
In response, Congress has drawn up plans to reconvene between Christmas and New Year’s. If Trump follows through on his threat — which he must do by Wednesday — the House will return to Washington for a session on December 28 to override the veto. While the margin in favor of an override looks safe, there is some uncertainty, with some Republicans who voted for the bill the first time around saying they would not vote to override a Trump veto.
McConnell announced Tuesday that, while he hopes the president does not veto the bill, the Senate would be in session on December 29 to “process” the House override should he do so.
Facing a noon deadline on January 3 to complete the override, the Senate could face procedural hurdles, according to The Hill’s Jordain Carney. Trump supporters could try to drag the process out by requiring a cloture vote of 60 senators. Majority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said the process could take a few days. "It will take more than one day if we have objections and I think we probably will. So the question is, if the House, if they override it, then ... we'll have to set it up, and it may take a few days to do that," Thune said.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he would try to slow the process down, due in part to a provision that limits the president’s ability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. “I very much am opposed to the Afghan war, and I’ve told them I’ll come back to try to prevent them from easily overriding the president’s veto,” Paul said Monday.
- The Relief Bill’s Biggest Blind Spot – Claudia Sahm, New York Times
- The Covid Relief Bill Is Welcome But Not Enough – Bloomberg Editorial Board
- The Return of the Big Bipartisan Deal – Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg
- The Ghost of Sabotage Future – Paul Krugman, New York Times
- What Will the New Stimulus Package Mean for the Nearly 50 Million Food-Insecure Americans? – Laura Reiley, Washington Post
- Don’t Let Mitch McConnell Get Away With His Vile Rewriting of History – Greg Sargent, Washington Post
- Republicans Claim to Be the Party of the Working Class. They Have a Funny Way of Showing It – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- The Return of Corporate Tax Incentives Is a Bad Omen for Blue States – Alex Pareene, New Republic
- 'Borrow-and-Spend' Stimulus Bill Is a Fiscal Monstrosity – Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore, The Hill
- Why Ambulances Are Exempt From the Surprise-Billing Ban – Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz, New York Times
No Vaccine Can End America’s Pandemic of Ignorance and Irrationality – Max Boot, Washington Post
- Misinformation About the Vaccine Could Be Worse Than Disinformation About the Elections – Alexandra S. Levine, Politico
- Even by Florida Standards, Gov. Ron DeSantis Is a Covid-19 Catastrophe – Lizette Alvarez, Washington Post