OPINION: Biden says Congress needs to 'go big' by passing a $1.9 trillion relief bill, but he doesn't tell you what all it covers

Clint Cooper, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.
·4 min read

Feb. 22—If you were a taxpayer who heard Congress was crafting a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, you might reasonably expect practically all of it would be spent on pandemic and vaccine needs or on those who have suffered most during the global pandemic.

Think again.

The bill that was to be considered starting Monday by the House Budget Committee has some numbers you'll want to think about: — 1% ($19 billion) goes toward COVID-19 vaccines. — 5% ($95 billion) is focused on public health needs surrounding the pandemic. — $6 billion (of $128 billion) in the bill to help schools reopen is allocated in fiscal 2021. — $750 million addresses global health issues. — $135 million goes to the National Endowment for the Arts. — $10 million is reserved for "Native American language preservation." — 15% ($285 billion) goes toward Democratic policy priorities not directly related to the pandemic.

You get the drift. Taxpayers are being sold a bill of goods because, as former Clinton and Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel has said, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

Today's Emanuel is U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, the House Budget Committee chairman, who said, "We are in a race against time, and aggressive, bold action is needed before our nation is permanently scarred by the human and economic costs of inaction."

In other words, don't think, just spend.

Both sides agree that more money needs to be spent — in spite of the country's soaring debt — but it's a matter of how much, what for and who gets it.

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, the Republican House whip, dubbed the bill 'Pelosi's Payoff to Progressives Act."

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee (of which U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee, is a member), said his caucus is leading opposition to the bill.

"The more we learn about it," he told Fox News, "the worse it sounds."

If you've heard anything about the bill already, you probably know it doles out $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals making up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000 (with cutoffs at $100,000 and $200,000, respectively). You might have figured that many of those checks would go to families that have had little or no financial loss during the pandemic, but you probably didn't know some of those checks would go to mixed-status families with illegal immigrants. We've maintained those checks ought to be targeted for citizens who need them most.

You probably knew the bill would contain more Paycheck Protection Program funds to help keep small businesses alive. You probably didn't know that would include Planned Parenthood.

You might have figured there would be more money for colleges and farmers and ranchers, but not that some of the college funds would go to schools with Chinese partnerships, and some of the money to the farmers and ranchers would be distributed on the basis of race and ethnicity.

No doubt you've also heard about the bill's gradual more than doubling of the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, but the status of that tenet may not survive in the Senate.

To date, $4.1 trillion has been allotted by Congress for economic relief as a result of the pandemic. And an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says the $360 billion provided in that amount to state and local governments has nearly covered all their pandemic-related losses. However, the bill contains another $350 billion for states and cities.

To top it all off, more than $1 trillion from the previous bills has yet to be spent.

Yet, to hype the desperation he wants Americans to feel to pressure Congress to pass the bill as is, President Joe Biden allowed last week that he wasn't sure how soon the country would return to a sense of normalcy.

"[A] year from now," he said, "I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, instead of — but we don't know."

Actual scientists see a much rosier picture, one writing in the Wall Street Journal that "COVID will be mostly gone by April." Another predicts June or July.

All of which begs the question why the virus package couldn't be more the size of the $600 billion plan that Republicans proposed earlier.

If you feel this would be a good time for the Democratic Congress to consider what's in their wallets like the rest of us have to, it might be time to let them know. The Chattanooga region is represented in the House by Republicans and in the Senate in Tennessee by Republicans, but they also need to know if you consider this spending excessive.

We do, and we think many of you do, too.