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Too Little, Too Late? Covid Relief Bill Meets Its Critics

Yuval Rosenberg
·4 min read

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.”

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