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Tags: special | interests | stimulus | pandemic | relief

Special Interest Items Snuck Into $2.2 Trillion 'Stimulus'

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By    |   Sunday, 29 March 2020 12:06 PM EDT

Lost in Americans' anticipation of coronavirus relief checks are all the favors paid to special interest groups in the $2.2 trillion bill.

"Anytime you have this much money, $2 trillion, the most we've ever spent at one time, and any time you're moving this fast, there's going to be waste, fraud, and abuse potential," Rep. Jodey Arrington told Newsmax TV on Friday.

House Democrats held the leverage and they played some cards on some agenda items that had been collecting dust, along with Republicans in the Senate, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"It is 'HELL' dealing with the Dems, had to give up some stupid things in order to get the 'big picture' done," President Donald Trump tweeted. "90% GREAT!"

Republicans – other than Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., – could not possibly object, fearing being labeled insensitive to struggling Americans, and it was a perfect storm for special interests groups seeking some love, according to myriad reports.

Among the special interest aide in the package, with some questionable pertinence to a global coronavirus pandemic, according to the Journal:

  • "Streamlining the approval process for sunscreen ingredients."
  • "Giving tax-preferred treatment to feminine-hygiene products."
  • "Temporary repeal of alcohol excise taxes for makers of hand sanitizer."
  • Banning "companies that receive federal loans from weighing in on efforts by their employees to form labor unions."
  • "Community and regional banks each scored wins on separate measures to allow them to reduce capital requirements so they can make more loans"
  • A ban on "the use of any money in the legislation to pay for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico."
  • "A measure to promote sexual abstinence."
  • "Makers of over-the-counter drugs, such as Tylenol, Pepto-Bismol and Benadryl, won inclusion of a long-sought bill to change the federal approval process for new products."
  • "The stimulus legislation provides $300 million to help the U.S. seafood industry, including commercial and charter fishermen."
  • "The FDA would be required to begin a new review process that allows for more input from the industry and scientists," you know, just in case things needed for the pandemic response might be rushed along to help people, like FDA standards for hand sanitizer that exceed those of the World Health Organization.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tried to give the bill some old-fashioned scrutiny, but it did not work out for him. Everyone in Washington, D.C., from Democrats to President Donald Trump hated him for it. Trump even called for him to be thrown out of the Republican Party.

"They did something I've never seen in eight years: They refused to take a recorded vote," Massie told Fox News on Saturday. "And that tells you what this was all about, they're all trying to dodge accountability."

Other curious beneficiaries from the stimulus bill, according to Politico:

  • "Casinos will be able to tap government loans for disaster assistance, a payback after casinos were blocked from receiving tax breaks extended to other businesses after Hurricane Katrina in 2005."
  • "The ability to apply for $25 billion in loans and loan guarantees reserved for the airlines."
  • "The rescue package permits Trump to extend the terms of up to seven senior military leaders: the Air Force chief of staff; the chief of space operations; the chief of the National Guard Bureau; the directors of the Army and Air National Guard; and the chief of the Army and Navy Reserves."
  • "A company could pay up to $5,250 of an employee's student loan payments each year on a tax-free basis."
  • "Free video conference and phone calls for inmates."
  • Harbor dredging: "The provision is a boon for ports that need dredging work, like the one in Mobile, Ala., in Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby's (R-Ala.) home state."

"People are arguing about various treatments for COVID-19, but sunscreen isn't one of them," Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the L.A. Times.

"It's not controversial but it certainly caught a ride on this train."

Also, according to the L.A. Times:

  • "Aerospace giant Boeing Co., which had struggled long before the coronavirus pandemic hit, appears the chief beneficiary of a $17-billion loan program intended for what the bill calls 'businesses critical to maintaining the national security.'"
  • "Small banks won lower requirements for capital reserves, a longtime goal for their lobbyists, on the theory that it would allow them lend more money to struggling businesses."
  • "$75 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which give grants to museums and artists."
  • "$7.5 million for the Smithsonian Institution and $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C."
  • "The long-troubled U.S. Postal Service will get a $10-billion loan, though Democrats have warned the agency will need more to stay afloat."

"The single largest line item in the stimulus is the nearly $500-billion slush fund for corporations," consumer advocacy group Public Citizen VP Lisa Gilbert told the Times. "This money has some guardrails attached, but these can be waived if Secretary [Steven] Mnuchin simply chooses to."

In fact, Trump has already declared his administration "will continue the practice of treating provisions like these as advisory and non-binding."

The New York Times also called out the following:

  • "If a company owns multiple hotels, even if the overall hotel or restaurant chain has more than 500 employees — the limit to qualify for treatment as a small business — it will still be able to take advantage of the small-business benefits offered in the rescue package."
  • "A provision in the bill would allow all colleges to retain federal funds allocated to help educate qualifying students, even if the students in question dropped out because of coronavirus-related emergencies. While the provision applies to all colleges, critics of for-profit colleges contend that, because those schools tend to have higher dropout rates, they would be able to retain more of the money they collect via federal loans to their students than would traditional nonprofit colleges."

"What's happening now is causing a crisis for all sectors of higher ed, and I understand the intent, but it would disproportionately help for-profit schools because their dropout rates are higher than other segments of higher ed," founder of the Project on Predatory Student Lending's Toby Merrill told The New York Times.

Even the cash payments going to Americans contains potential consequences. Critics say the bill is potentially going to create more unemployment by incentivizing workers to be unemployed.

"In some cases we may be paying people more to stay home rather than go to work, and that could be a problem once we get to the recovery phase," Trump campaign economic adviser Stephen Moore told Sunday's "The Cats Roundtable" on 970 AM-N.Y.

Also, on the night of his election, Trump called for a revamping of American infrastructure, as initiative that has stalled amid myriad other agendas during his first term,.Infrastruction funds are in the bill too: $25 billion in infrastructure grants for states around the country, The Washington Post reported.

"We shouldn't use the term stimulus, because this bill really isn't a stimulus bill," Moore said. "You don't stimulate the economy by printing dollars and sending checks out to people.

"It mostly redistributes income. It doesn't create income. There's nothing in this package that actually encourages production."

But, all the bill stuffing aside, the bill had to be done and must be monitored as it is deployed, Rep. Arrington told Newsmax TV.

"To provide the much-needed relief, time is of the essence if we're going to bounce back and recover, both from a family standpoint and workers, but also the economy," he said.

Attempts to stuff the bill with agenda items that did not address the coronavirus crisis, like arts and public television money, were always expected and apparent, but "we cannot wait for perfect," Arrington added.

"While that's shameful and political opportunism like I've never seen, I'm not going to be able to send this back to the Senate and protract this process anymore," Arrington said. "We're going to get it out there. We can hash through those things later, and we've gotta help the American people.

"That's of the utmost importance right now."

Eric Mack

Eric Mack has been a writer and editor at Newsmax since 2016. He is a 1998 Syracuse University journalism graduate and a New York Press Association award-winning writer.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Lost in Americans' anticipation of coronavirus relief checks are all the favors paid to special interest groups in the $2.2 trillion bill."Anytime you have this much money, $2 trillion, the most we've ever spent at one time, and any time you're moving this fast, there's...
special, interests, stimulus, pandemic, relief
Sunday, 29 March 2020 12:06 PM
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