Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill deserves debate

By U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Over the last year, Congress has come together five times to pass massive, bipartisan bills totaling roughly $4-trillion in relief measures to help American families and businesses weather the pandemic.

This bipartisan approach has been constructive, and recent economic projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide proof of their effectiveness. The CBO estimates that already-enacted pandemic-related provisions, built upon the strong fiscal policy foundation we already had in place, will provide a robust economic recovery, with growth of 3.7 percent over the course of 2021.

We should be encouraged by this, as well as the success of Operation Warp Speed and vaccine distribution underway, and look to fill in any gaps in the response instead of just piling more taxpayer dollars on yet-to-be-depleted programs.

It is disappointing that the new Democratic Senate Majority has decided to move forward with a budget resolution to quickly pass proposals that have failed to garner broad bipartisan support in the past, rather than focusing on policies that will boost vaccine distribution and help get people back to work and our kids safely back to school.

The proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill comes just a few short months after a $900 billion package was signed into law, and ignores estimates that roughly $1 trillion in enacted stimulus funding remains unspent.

It directs the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over major direct spending programs and all revenue and debt limit legislation, to increase the deficit by a staggering $1.3 trillion, without even deliberating what polices would have the biggest impact in growing our economy.

The Finance Committee will never debate nor vote on amendments. Rather, it will be asked to simply rubber-stamp partisan legislation passed in the House of Representatives.

The proposals in the nearly $2-trillion package include sweeping policy changes that deserve thorough, bipartisan scrutiny at the committee level.

According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), “Only about 1 percent of the entire package goes toward COVID vaccines, and 5 percent is truly focused on public health needs surrounding the pandemic. More than 15 percent of the package – about $300 billion – is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis.”

Many of these longstanding wish-list items are in the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction. Take the $350 billion bailout for states, many of which are actually running surpluses for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, including my home state of Idaho. Taxpayers across the country should not have to bail out the failed policies and poor fiscal management of certain states.

Or, consider the $86 billion bailout for the multiemployer pension system, which has been in crisis for several years. There are existing bipartisan proposals to address the problem, which will be ignored in favor of using the reconciliation process to avoid reforms, leading to further future bailouts.

The relief package also includes an additional $400 a week in unemployment benefits, on top of existing benefits. While extending supplemental unemployment benefits may be warranted, the additional federal support creates a potential greater incentive for most beneficiaries to stay home rather than work.

The list goes on, as CRFB President Maya MacGuineas also points out: “The bill includes a number of other long-standing priorities, such as expanding the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies, and boosting the minimum wage. These policies don’t belong in a COVID relief package, and should be fully offset if retained.”

I agree.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacted a terrible toll on America, and another relief package may be appropriate. However, there are strong disagreements on the scope and content of the current relief package, which should be deliberated and debated through regular committee order.

We have the opportunity to work together to get this right. That is what we should be doing, especially right now.

Idahoans deserve a serious, bipartisan process that focuses on their most urgent needs: getting their kids back in or keeping their kids in school, getting workers safely back on the job, keeping small businesses’ doors open and helping to reclaim a semblance of pre-pandemic life.

As we have done in the past, Congress should be working together on targeted COVID relief for families affected by the pandemic, and pro-growth policies that will allow employers to reopen and rehire.