Is There Wasteful Spending In The Coronavirus Stimulus Bill? (Spoiler Alert: Bigly!)
Last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a $2 trillion “Phase III” emergency aid package to help America recover from the coronavirus lockdown. Previous phases provided funds for testing and paid family leave.
Not one U.S. Senator voted against the legislation: 96-0. Twice during the first hour of Senate debate, two “final” versions were distributed. No one had time to read the final language.
Our organization at OpenTheBooks.com posted an official summary of the legislation’s supplemental $340 billion surge to emergency funding here.
The Republican majority Senate and Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced their 250-page version of this coronavirus aid relief and economic security act a week ago. It eventually became the $2 trillion, 883 page CARES Act – Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R.748).
Two days ago, in the ramp up to negotiations, House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the “Take Responsibility For Workers and Family’s Act” (H.R.6379) – a $2.5 trillion, 1,404 page coronavirus response.
Our auditors dug deeply into McConnell’s Senate bill and compared it to Pelosi’s House bill. While half the nation was “sheltered in place,” here’s what lawmakers — in both parties — considered “essential spending” for coronavirus recovery:
$25 million in the Senate bill went to the John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. During the past ten years, the center received $68.3 million in federal grants (2010-2019). The Kennedy Center has total assets of $557 million. The Pelosi bill earmarked $35 million.
$75 million in the Senate bill funded the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. Why does National Public Radio and Big Bird get a coronavirus subsidy? The Pelosi bill allocated $300 million.
$1.2 billion in the Pelosi bill to require airlines to purchase expensive “renewable” jet fuel. It was $200 million per year in grants (2021-2026) to “develop, transport, and store sustainable aviation fuels that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” The Senate bill eliminated this provision.
People of good will can debate each of these goals, but is it truly emergency spending? For example, what is the public purpose for the Smithsonian Institute receiving an additional $7.5 million in this time of crisis? Both bills provided these funds.
While governors begged for vital medical supplies, the spending packages each contained massive increases even in obscure, small agencies.
An earmarked $1.1 billion in the Pelosi bill would have more than doubled the budgets of The Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment of the Arts and the Humanities. The Senate bill provided funding of $200 million.
$500 million in the Pelosi bill to The Institute of Museum and Library Services (FY2019 budget: $230 million). This agency is so small that it doesn’t even employ an inspector general. The Senate bill provided $50 million.
$600 million in the Pelosi bill to National Endowment of the Arts and the Humanities (FY2019 budget: $253 million) – In 2017, our study showed eighty-percent of all non-profit grant-making flowed to well-healed organizations with over $1 million in assets. The Senate bill provided $150 million.
Many projects included in the Pelosi bill were stripped in the Senate bill: a $25 billion bailout of the Post Office; requiring federal agencies to use minority banks; and expanded collective bargaining rights for federal employees.
However, even the Senate bill significantly strengthened private-sector unionizing. If a business takes a coronavirus stabilization loan, then they must “remain neutral in any union organizing effort for the term of the loan.”
A quick spotlight on agencies receiving coronavirus recovery in the Senate bill includes:
$88 million to the Peace Corps for “evacuating volunteers and U.S. direct hires from overseas.” The agency just fired all of their 7,300 volunteers working in 61 countries on March 15. The Pelosi bill allocated $90 million.
$250 million to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The subsidy would cover “taxpayer services,” “enforcement,” and “operations support.” The Pelosi bill provided $602 million.
$350 million to the State Department for “migration and Refugee Assistance.” This funding would help minimize the virus spread in vulnerable populations. The Pelosi bill earmarked $300 million.
$400 million to the federal Election Assistance Commission to assist the states with “election security grants.” The Pelosi bill provided $4 billion.
$30.8 billion to the Department of Education for “state Fiscal Stabilization Fund” that provides grants to support of elementary and secondary education ($13.5 billion), Higher Ed ($14.25 billion), and State flexibility grants ($3 billion). The Pelosi bill asked for $50 billion.
We reached out to Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi for comment.
“The coronavirus epidemic endangers every aspect of American life, and Democrats believe that this historic emergency requires a full-spectrum response to protect our economy and our democracy.”
– Spokesperson Henry Connelly on behalf of Speaker Nancy Pelosi
During the past three years, Republicans and Democrats have helped drain the U.S. Treasury from the left and the right. Our national debt increased from $10 trillion (2008) to $19.6 trillion (2016) to $23.6 trillion (2020).
Coronavirus responses will drive the national debt much higher.
Now, leaders in both parties must honor the sacrifices of American workers and families in a lockdown and safeguard the fiscal health of the country.