Despite the rancor and the saber-rattling out of Washington every day, it's likely Congress will pass a coronavirus relief package before Christmas. (They want to go home, too.) Many in Congress want to load this legislation up with unrelated items that would only detract from what hurting Americans need.
Given the crippling amount of debt already added this year, any relief bill must stay free from provisions that do not directly address the economic and health care demands as a result of the pandemic.
If the past is prologue, upcoming legislation will end up being a magnet for pet projects pushed by special interests. Back in March, Congress passed a massive relief package. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) ended up costing taxpayers $2.2 trillion (yes, with a T) and was marketed as a stimulus package to restart the economy. That legislation followed two smaller bills including an $8 billion package for research on the virus and a $104 billion package to provide aid to unemployed families.
The massive CARES Act was promoted as landmark legislation that included provisions to provide cash payments to Americans, increase unemployment benefits and create the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was initially intended to provide $350 billion in grants to small businesses in the name of protecting jobs and was later increased to $669 billion. The CARES Act also provided almost a half-trillion in relief for large corporations and $340 billion for state and local governments.
The legislation was the most expensive relief package ever signed into law, but for many in Congress (cough Democrats cough) they saw this as just a foot in the door.
The top spending line items in the bill masked several provisions that had nothing to do with pandemic relief efforts. Rachel Bovard of the Conservative Partnership Institute wrote about these smaller special interest provisions. "The Kennedy Center received $25 million. The National Endowment for the Arts got $75 million. So did the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funds PBS and NPR. A new minority business development agency was created. The House was given an extra $25 million for 'salaries and expenses' (which they claim is not a raise, but for telework assistance and food service contracts)."
Those earmarks had zero to do with the pandemic and more to do with members of Congress using the CARES Act to shower taxpayer money on allied organizations.
On October 1, the Democratic-controlled House passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act in an effort to send a massive relief package over to the Republican-controlled Senate. That bill contained some consensus provisions, but also included, according to a section-by-section analysis posted by the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, some provisions that were merely earmarks for friends of the House leadership.
They earmarked $100 million for Saltonstall-Kennedy grants to support the domestic seafood industry, $250 million for "Fishery Disaster Assistance to provide direct relief to tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants," both administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
These are just two of many provisions added to the HEROES Act that are not an emergency in any sense.
Other provisions clearly not related to the pandemic include; Fish and Wildlife Service ($45 million), National Endowment for the Arts ($135 million), and the SAFE Banking Act that allows cannabis-related legitimate businesses to use banking facilities. These provisions may have merits separate from this legislation, but they should not all be dumped into a massive multi-trillion-dollar pandemic aid package.
The HEROES Act never made it into law, but it is currently on the table as a potential aid package to be negotiated during the lame duck session of Congress.
Another provision that has nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic are provisions addressing notice requirements to consumers about the portability of prescriptions for contact lenses to shop outside the optometrists' office.
In anticipation of a coronavirus relief aid package, the Senate Commerce Committee recently scheduled, then removed from the agenda, consideration of the Contact Lens Modernization Act. The CLMA legislation would reverse a Federal Trade Commission rule protecting consumers' access to their prescriptions. The provision is being pushed by optometrists to eliminate automatic prescription release so consumers can't shop for high quality, lower cost contacts.
The pandemic and its impact are unprecedented. Congress must resist the temptation to load up a coronavirus relief package with unrelated items in the lame duck session to keep the focus and resources trained on fighting COVID.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. Read Jared Whitley's reports — More Here.
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