Battle Shaping Up in Congress About Including Non-CCP Virus Spending in Next Relief Package

April 14, 2020 Updated: April 14, 2020

News Analysis

A heated debate is brewing in Congress over non-CCP virus spending in a possible fourth recovery package aimed to steer the United States toward putting “Open for Business” signs back in the windows of the national economy.

Battle lines are forming along highly polarized lines, as Democrats demand billions for projects having little or nothing to do with the coronavirus pandemic and Republicans emphasize aid to help individuals and small businesses get back on their feet.

What is beyond question is that the unprecedented $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) signed by President Donald Trump on March 27 contained billions of dollars for projects far removed from dealing with skyrocketing unemployment or failing businesses.

Research by the Taxpayers’ Protection Alliance (TPA) provided to The Epoch Times pointed to a long list of spending unrelated to the disease and its economic aftermath, including these:

  • $30.8 billion for the Department of Education (DED) stabilization fund for elementary, secondary, and higher education programs
  • $25 billion in transit infrastructure grants
  • $10 billion in extended borrowing to the USPS
  • $9.5 billion in agricultural programs
  • $2.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs information technology systems
  • $526 million in national network grants to the National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak)
  • $345 million for Department of Labor training and employment services
  • $324 million for State Department diplomatic programs
  • $300 million for Social Security Administration salaries and overhead costs
  • $100 million to the Federal Prison System
  • $100 million for “Safe Schools and Citizenship Education”
  • $95 million to the U.S. Agency for International Development for operating expenses
  • $88 million to the Peace Corps
  • $75 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which helps fund National Public Radio
  • $75 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • $60 million to NASA.
  • $50 million for the “Institute of Museum and Library Services”
  • $35 million for Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative support offices
  • $25 million in additional salaries and expenses for the House of Representatives
  • $25 million for U.S. Capitol “Construction and Operations”
  • $9 million for miscellaneous Senate expenses
  • $7.5 million for Smithsonian Institution salaries and expenses
  • $3.1 million for Maritime Administration operations and training

An April 7 Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis of CARES explained, for example, that the DED stabilization fund assistance “provides for the distribution of approximately $14 billion to [colleges and universities] to address needs directly related to coronavirus, including, but not limited to, transitioning courses to distance education and grant aid to students for their educational costs such as food, housing, course materials, health care, and child care.”

How giving college students more money for food, books, housing, and other normal daily needs helps them cope with the pandemic wasn’t explained by CRS.

But Ross Marchand, TPA’s director of policy, told The Epoch Times on April 14 that “for the higher education portion, it looks like at least half of the funds need to go directly to students in emergency grants above and beyond what they are getting now. The other half can be used by the university to pay for switching instruction over to digital learning, but I’m sure there’s a lot of discretion there.”

Congressional Republicans have their own pork problems, according to Jim Manley, former senior aide to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

“Republicans aren’t even raising an eyebrow at one provision slipped into the CARES bill dealing with a tax break for wealthy individuals that the Joint Committee on Taxation suggests will cost $195 billion over 10 years,” Manley said.

The provision benefits hedge fund investors and real estate business owners.

Next Bill Worse?

David Williams, TPA’s president, warned the next relief package could be worse than CARES.

“The taxpayer wheel of (mis)fortune keeps spinning, with us never knowing how much Congress will spend on unrelated items. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) success in tacking unneeded, unnecessary pork-barrel spending to the CARES Act sets a troubling precedent for future coronavirus-related relief legislation,” Williams said.

Williams pointed to the Postal Service seeking another $75 billion in the next relief legislation, “despite the agency’s longstanding financial problems predating the pandemic. Awarding grants to irresponsible organizations and agencies does nothing for coronavirus patients and simply sets the stage for more problems in the future.”

A related issue is the timing of a fourth package. Brian Darling, former senior counsel to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and founder of Liberty Government Affairs, told The Epoch Times on April 14 that Congress “should not pass a fourth bill until the impact of the $2 trillion bill can be assessed to see if it worked as intended.”

Darling said that “the urge to ‘do something’ so Congress can provide themselves with political cover from voter blowback in November is strong and may cost taxpayers another $1 trillion by the end of this year.”

Romina Boccia of The Heritage Foundation agreed with Darling, observing that “much of the relief provided in the CARES Act has yet to reach the intended businesses and individuals and lawmakers should be focused on constituent services to help people navigate the complex web of supports.”

That means, said Boccia, who directs the conservative think tank’s Grover M. Herman Center for the Federal Budget, that “all policies should be temporary and targeted directly toward addressing the public health crisis and keeping workers attached to their employers and widespread business failures to preserve the valuable infrastructure and networks, which will fuel the recovery once this becomes possible.”

The bottom line, Darling said, is that “Congress is dysfunctional and can’t be trusted to restrain themselves.”

But in a taste of the coming debate, Jimmy Williams, former senior economic adviser to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), told The Epoch Times that “it’s Congress’ job to spend our taxpayer dollars. If a member doesn’t like the pork in these bills, vote against it.

“Frankly, I’m tired of members from both sides of the aisle complaining about deficits when they’ve done nothing to fix the problem in almost a decade.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at Mark.Tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.