Government Spending

The 'COVID Relief Bill' Is Mostly an Expensive Bundle of Politically Motivated Giveaways

The Senate is preparing to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that has very little to do with the pandemic, and we all know it. Congress should admit as much.

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As the Senate prepares to take a final vote on President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, it's time to be honest about one thing.

This isn't a COVID-19 relief bill. We should stop calling it that.

It's true this bill is moving through Congress at the same time that COVID-19 relief is sweeping the country. With the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths falling all across the country while vaccination totals soar, it feels like the end of the pandemic could be right around the corner. Biden said this week that vaccine supply will be sufficient to cover all adult Americans who want a shot by the end of May. Some states are lifting economic lockdowns and behavior restrictions. Sweet, sweet relief is coming.

But let's be very clear about this: It is not coming from Congress.

No, the bill that the Senate is likely to pass this week is a larded-up bounty of mostly Democratic policy goals that will add $1.9 trillion to the federal budget deficit—yes, every last penny of this beast is being added to the national credit card.

Only about 5 percent of that total is funding public health efforts related to the pandemic, according to the nonpartisan number crunchers at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). There are a few other things in the bill that could be counted as "relief," like the $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and another $40 billion in emergency loans for restaurants, bars, music venues, airlines, and other industries. Those payments and programs aren't all necessary but, as The Wall Street Journal notes, at least recipients will have to demonstrate economic losses to get the money.

Beyond that, however, this bill is a steaming pile of government handouts and special interest giveaways.

A sizable portion, about $500 billion, is a bailout of state and local governments that for the most part do not need one. While state tax revenues took a small hit from the pandemic and associated economic lockdowns, the damage is far smaller than was once feared. States should handle their own finances.

But it's not just a bailout; it's a bailout in which the funding is allocated based on the size of each state's unemployed population. In other words, states that imposed draconian and unnecessary economic lockdowns during the past year are going to get a larger share of the federal cash than states that managed to balance public health needs and the economy—an arrangement that New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu rightly calls "outrageous."

Another $400 billion of the bill's spending would provide an additional round of stimulus checks to Americans who haven't lost their jobs or income due to the pandemic. The version of Biden's bill passed last month by the House would fund $1,400 in direct payments to individuals who earned up to $100,000 last year and couples who earned up to $200,000—though there is now a push to modestly reduce the phaseouts to $80,000 and $160,000, respectively.

Those limitations will save about $50 billion, but they hardly go far enough. There is no reason for Congress to be sending checks to families that earn six-figure incomes and have experienced minimal financial losses due to the pandemic. If putting more money in Americans' pockets is a priority for Congress, it should accomplish that goal by reducing income taxes (and cutting an equal amount of future spending) on a permanent basis, not by engaging in deficit-hiking games merely because "free" money from the government is politically popular.

The bill spends $129 billion on K-12 education—money that you might assume is being used to reopen schools quickly and safely. Wrong. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the bill found that "the bulk" of those dollars wouldn't be spent until "after 2021." Some of it won't be distributed until 2024.

That same CBO report also estimates that a total of $480 million in the bill will be spent on "miscellaneous" educational matters like "grants to fund activities related to the arts, humanities, libraries, and museums, and Native American language preservation and maintenance." Even if those are items that might be worth spending federal tax dollars to support, it's difficult to understand how they are "COVID-19 relief" by any meaningful definition of the terms.

The same is true for the bill's funding of a new subway in San Jose, California, and the new bridge connecting New York state to Canada—top priorities of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), naturally, but not anything that belongs in a pandemic relief bill.

Like the education component, the bill's extension of boosted unemployment benefits through the end of August might seem like something directly related to the pandemic. But those federal payments would increase from $300 per week to $400 per week—that's on top of whatever unemployed workers are getting from state-run programs—at a time when the unemployment rate is falling.

"This makes little sense," according to an analysis from the CRFB, because it means "two-thirds of beneficiaries would collect more in benefits than they would collect in paychecks" and it is likely to slow the economic recovery, not stimulate it.

Speaking of being paid not to work, the bill also includes a $14 billion provision creating a new paid family leave program—one that applies only to employees of the federal government. As Reason's Billy Binion noted earlier today, the program allows federal workers to collect benefits if they have children attending schools that are closed due to COVID-19. In other words, federal employees get paid to stay home with their kids, while everyone else tries to juggle a full-time job and being a substitute teacher.

Note that this special giveaway to federal employees is being funded with twice as much money as the PPP, which is ostensibly meant to provide the same sort of ongoing financial support for private-sector employees who can't work due to the pandemic. That really says something about congressional priorities.

The bill spends another $86 billion to bail out multi-employer pension funds, which are retirement accounts operated by private sector unions on behalf of their members. Many of these retirement accounts are deep in the red—but even if there is a good reason for federal taxpayers to pick up the tab, what does this have to do with the pandemic?

For now, the bill also contains an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. That would be a job-killing policy that can't be accurately described as "COVID-19 relief" or "stimulus"—and thankfully it appears likely to be stripped from the bill.

Maybe the most telling example of how far removed from "COVID-19 relief" this thing has strayed is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.) suggesting that the bill's bonus unemployment benefits—which are paid to people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic to which the bill is ostensibly providing relief—could be curtailed so more money can be spent on rural broadband subsidies. In other words, Shaheen thinks Congress should provide less money to unemployed Americans now so that those dollars can be dumped into a federal boondoggle in the hopes of bringing slightly faster internet service to rural New Hampshire in a few years.

I could go on, but you probably get the point. Calling this a "COVID-19 relief bill" is ridiculous.

About the only COVID-19 relief that most Americans need right now comes in a syringe. Once we hit a critical mass of immunity from vaccinations, and state and local governments lift economic lockdowns, the stimulus will happen without any help from Congress. In the meantime, lawmakers should work to provide aid to businesses and individuals facing ongoing economic hardship, and that's all.

Using the waning pandemic as an excuse for a spending free-for-all when the country is $28 trillion in debt is beyond irresponsible. And trying to pass off this bloated list of politically motivated handouts as essential to America's public health is dishonest and cowardly.

NEXT: Government, Not Big Tech, Is the Biggest Threat to Free Speech

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  2. But …. but …. the most important thing: No mean tweets.

    1. Maybe.
      But suppose someone who believes in individual freedoms buys twitter and “he” gets an account again?
      Do you want to risk that?

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    2. They’re horrible within normal parameters and isn’t that what really matters?

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      2. “Treason”. “Germ warfare”. lol

  3. states that imposed draconian and unnecessary economic lockdowns during the past year are going to get a larger share of the federal cash

    Is Boehm really going to pretend that this isn’t a cash grab by states are that are going to steal this money to fund their troubled pensions? I assumed last year that the whole ‘pandemic’ schtick was a setup for exactly this.

    1. Well, I don’t see any amendments offered to restrict funding to COVID* expenses incurred in 2020, and requiring all funds not spent by June 2021 be returned.
      If it was an actual emergency, these features would be included.

      This is just the democratic party doing what it promised to do if elected. Their party platform is openly available on the web.
      Promises kept.

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    2. You’re pals Romney and Lee are against and Mormons stick together.

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  4. Just over 50% of Americans are now immune from covid according to CDC covid case data (and CDC’s estimate 4.6 times more Americans were infected with covid than tested positive), and assuming all previously infected people remain immune, 90% of 1st covid vaccine dose recipients are now immune, and 10% of 2nd covid vaccine dose recipients are now immune.

    More specifically, of the estimated 50.1% of Americans who are now immune from covid, 40.9% are immune due to past infection, 8.4% are immune due to their first vaccine dose, and .8% are immune due to their second vaccine.

    To calculate, the following equation was utilized.
    (.089 x 4.6 = .409) + (.159 x .59 x .9 = .084%) + (.081 x .1 = .8%) = 40.9% + 8.4% + .8% = 50.1%

    Although Fauci, Biden/Harris, CDC, FDA, Big Pharma, Big Medicine, Big Tech and left wing propagandists (aka the news media) have been deceiving Americans to believe that only vaccines can confer immunity from covid, four times more Americans have become immune due to past infection (than have become immune due to vaccines).

    As I’ve been predicting for the past three months, herd immunity (assisted by vaccines) is now taking place in two thirds of US states.

    1. Perhaps the most important CDC report on covid was published on more than a month ago at
      https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/burden.html#anchor_1607017301754

      But nobody at Reason (or the overwhelming majority of media outlets) has even acknowledged the existence of this CDC report (or its estimate that 4.6 times more Americans were infected with covid than have tested positive).

      That’s why an estimated 40.9% of Americans have already been infected with covid (as 8.9% x 4.6 = 40.9%), and remain immune from covid (as just 11 covid reinfections have been known to occur in America, and 63 worldwide).

      1. New covid cases have declined by at least 90% in 11 states, by at least 80% in 30 states, and by at least 70% in 46 states. This is what happens as herd immunity transpires.

        Iowa -96.2%
        North Dakota -95.0%
        Wisconsin -92.2%
        Missouri -92.1%
        South Dakota -90.7%
        Nebraska -90.7%
        Indiana -90.7%
        New Mexico -90.6%
        California -90.5%
        Minnesota -90.4%
        Montana –90.1%
        Tennessee -89.5%
        Wyoming -89.3%
        Arizona –89.2%
        Nevada -89.2%
        Oklahoma -88.6%
        Illinois -87.7%
        Hawaii -87.5%
        Kansas -87.4%
        Ohio -87.1%
        Utah -86.3%
        West Virginia -86.3%
        Michigan -84.4%
        Mississippi -84.3%
        Oregon -84.2%
        Washington -83.2%
        Idaho -82.6%
        Kentucky -80.6%
        North Carolina -80.6%
        Massachusetts -80.5%
        Colorado -79.2%
        Maryland -79.2%
        Louisiana -78.9%
        Pennsylvania -77.8%
        South Carolina -76.9%
        Virginia -76.5%
        New Hampshire -76.3%
        Maine -76.2%
        Alaska -74.5%
        Alabama -73.9%
        D.C. -73.6%
        Georgia -73.5%
        Delaware -72.6%
        Florida -71.6%
        Texas -71.6%
        Rhode Island -70.0%
        Connecticut -69.5%
        Arkansas -66.3%
        New York -59.1%
        New Jersey -49.5%
        Vermont -43.9%

        data as of 3/3/2021

        1. While the CDC (and national news media) are boasting that 15.9% of Americans have received a first dose of covid vaccine (and that 8.1% received a second dose), covid vaccines have only conferred immunity to about 9.2% of Americans to date.

          That’s because about 41% of Americans who received a covid vaccine were already immune (due to previous infection), and because about 90% of Americans who received a 2nd covid vaccine were already immune, indicating that a majority of covid vaccines have been given to (i.e. wasted on ) people who were already immune.

          In contrast, previous covid infection has conferred immunity to 40.9% of Americans (as just 11 cases of reinfection in the US are known).

    2. Once we hit a critical mass of immunity from vaccinations,

      Fuck the millions of deplorables who, one way or another, came by immunity naturally.

      1. You didn’t build that (immunity)!

    3. Just think. Without lockdowns last summer we could have been at this point in a few months, and probably with fewer overall deaths. Certainly with fewer deaths related to the COVID response (deaths of despair). And we wouldn’t have timed the biggest COVID spike to happen during the winter flu/cold/pneumonia season.

      It’s almost as if the government planned its COVID response to make things as bad as they could possibly be. But I honestly don’t think the government is capable of that level of planning and coordination. They just made things this bad by pure coincidence.

  5. The number of known covid reinfections in America has increased to 11 (out of 29.4 million covid cases, and out of an estimated 135.5 million covid infections).
    https://bnonews.com/index.php/2020/08/covid-19-reinfection-tracker/

    1. But several weeks ago on NBC News, Anthony Fauci falsely claimed “Prior infection doesn’t protect you against reinfection,” after Stephanoupolos wisely asked if covid confers immunity to many/most who were/are infected.

      It’s between 5 and 6 minutes on the video at
      https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/lot-things-open-schools-vaccinating-teachers-fauci/story?id=75883336

      That statement should have resulted in Fauci being condemned by everyone who understands basic communicable disease epidemiology and every doctor in America, and should have resulted in Fauci’s immediate firing.

      1. They won; have you forgotten already?
        He will never be fired; he will get next year’s emmy.

        1. And then we’ll find out about all of those women he made uncomfortable.

      2. I just looked at the CDC site and it says cases of reinfection have been reported, but remain rare. They also go on to say “Based on what we know from similar viruses, some reinfections are expected.”

        The CDC is of course continuing to study the situation. Having said that – I believe the other points you’ve made have indeed been underreported. At first, the experts didn’t know much, but for months now it seems the media (and “experts” like Fauci) have not emphasized a couple of important truths: (1) the virus is far more contagious than many, many people understand, and (2) the virus is far less deadly for most of our population than the media and many politicians have wanted us to believe. These failures to properly communicate have (in my opinion) caused more deaths and certainly caused more damage to the economy and more psychological stress. Too many people have not grasped just how likely they, or the person standing next to them are infected – and many other people have dealt with more anxiety and worry about dying from the virus than was necessary.

        Between the actual numbers of infections you mentioned plus the many millions of vaccines that will be administered in the next few months, we should be at herd immunity by early summer, if not sooner.

        1. Please note that herd immunity is already occurring in hundreds of counties and many/most states, but will likely take an additional several months before occurring in a half dozen (or perhaps a dozen) states.

      3. The people at this site, and the entire political right, have been aggressively wrong on this every step of the way, to the tune of uncountable thousands of excess dead humans.

        Not because they had better evidence, but because the steps necessary to mitigate a pandemic hurt their feelings.

        1. Tony, you pathetic serf, why do you even comment here? You do not value liberty on any level.

        2. Yawn. Your intellectually dishonest and tribalist verbal vomits are epically pathetic at this point. Do you honestly think you have the remotest amount of credibility?

          Do you ever realize that your bias is so fundamentally great that anything you say automatically justifies skepticism?

        3. Citation needed. There’s no correlation between government action and COVID death rates. All that matters is socio-economics. Same as with most everything else.

      4. Kind of like how they keep saying that youth doesn’t protect you from being killed by the virus, even though it emphatically (and mercifully) does.

  6. hey I know we could all descend upon Capitol Hill and peacefully let them know our displeasure oh wait

  7. WHEN DO I GET MY MONEY?

  8. Admit it? Why should they? They are going to just do it FYTY.

    Congress is like a diluted board, No one is responsible.

  9. This bill is pure garbage.

    But so was the Con Man’s $3 trillion of crap and handouts.

    1. Yeah, but that one was Congress’ fault.

      1. Yes, I read that on Wingnut.com. The evil Nancy Pelosi cast a spell on Mitch and Trump and forced the great negotiator to sign that bill against his wishes.

        1. Are you two really still proving you still don’t understand how federal government works? Or you just refuse to blame democrats for anything?

          1. You don’t understand that the GOP Senate and GOP White House could have blocked anything Pelosi brought up in 2020.

            So yes, Democrats get 1/3 of the blame. Your hero GOP gets 2/3 of the blame.

            1. Man, trying to read your logic is migraine inducing.

        2. You’re the one who likes to masturbate to pictures of young children, right?

          1. QANon whackjobs like yourself should go to Breitbart.

  10. It’s pointless to argue this congress and the white house pass these bills to curry favor and long ago gave up budgeting.

    It’s better to let the economy crash, which will force many politicians and bureaucrats into hiding, and hopefully rebuild it better. There is no stopping the democrat socialists and their RINO puppets who embrace MMT and all that entails.

    1. With every passing day, our country resembles Asimov’s Trantor more and more.

      1. Is that better or worse than the fascist state Republicans tried to force on us with violence?

        1. You have to be a troll. There’s no way you can actually believe a comment like this.

  11. I’ll never understand reason’s support for boosting unemployment benefits, a policy the incentivises people to remain unemployed. But then I’ll never understand reason going off the reservation at all.

    1. Boosting unemployment benefits also means the service sector is going begging for employees who net more money watching The View on their couch than actually working.

    2. Reason used to be libertarian, now they are “woke libertarians”. Times and writers change, not always for the good, and you see I avoided the word journalists.

      1. Or maybe libertarianism and worshiping every treasonous brain fart of a ridiculous orange wannabe tyrant are not necessarily 100% compatible.

        1. Trump still living rent free in your head, I see.

  12. No surprise here. When the pork gravy train leaves the station, you’d be a fool not to hook your own project car to it.

    Afterall, another train ain’t leaving for a while, and the voters will have almost two years to forgive and forget your piggishness

  13. The real problem is the word “mostly” depends on who is getting the money. To Democrats it is mostly “relief” and to Republicans it is mostly “waste”. And last Reason doesn’t have a clue.

  14. There is something satisfying in listening to the clerks read this piece of shit. I can hear the impatience. They are tripping over themselves in an effort to get through it as fast as possible.

  15. Didn’t Ken write this article back in late August 2020?

    1. He did. Reason should really hire him, but then reason might get confused with a libritarian publication

  16. Mostly?

    Ha.

  17. Simon Trinculo covered a lot of this in his books.

  18. Come on now. Who could possibly be against Printing Free Money?

  19. 100% National Socialism (def; Nazism) 101.

  20. I don’t know. Isn’t this just what Libertarian theory calls for? Dismantle the state by cutting checks to the citizens (very similar to tax cuts), funding the shortfalls by borrowing (selling bonds which are basically claims on tax revenues) which must then increase the debt service percentage of the budget. At some point, more and more of the revenue goes to individuals while the spending more and more is simply sending checks to other individuals and, voila! Except for possible a defense system, we have effectively sold off any and all collective property or ability of the government.

    1. Do you expect anyone to take that pile of shit seriously?

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  22. Kudos to Senator Ron Johnson for forcing the bill to be read before voting on it. It is expected to take 10 hrs. Probably would be a good idea to force every bill to be read out loud before allowing a vote. It would help protect us from all the bad bills they pass underneath cover.

    1. All it will accomplish is making senate aides stay up all night reading and delaying money for people. You think looking like petty useless assholes is good for Republicans?

  23. Ah yes, when you simply declare that nothing is Covid relief, it’s very easy to see how the covid relief bill isn’t covid relief. Bravo.

  24. You’re welcome to donate your check back to the treasury.

    People who suborn the overthrowing of the United States don’t get to talk about fiscal imprudence.

    1. God you have got to be the biggest idiot I have ever encountered. It’s just amazing the psychological damage Republicans caused you. It’s really just jaw dropping. More so that you think you actually espouse intelligent positions rather than personal psychological hissy fits.

      1. “…It’s just amazing the psychological damage Republicans caused you…”

        Pretty sure shitstain was born this stupid.

  25. What’s the problem Eric? You wanted Trump out and Biden in. Enjoy.

  26. Yeah, this is right out of a Simon Trinculo book.

  27. Cherish life, don’t gather, wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and ventilate frequently,

  28. Give aways = votes.
    Well only for those that have no idea of economics.
    And then for only for a time, seeing give aways are actually take aways, and people figure it out when unemployed, living in the street and starving.

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