At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we sit down with Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.) to discuss why he believes the stimulus package that recently passed the House is highly wasteful and poorly targeted.
He also argues the worst thing for disillusioned Americans to do right now is to stop voting. Instead, they should get more involved at a local level.
Jan Jekielek: Congressman Mike Kelly, we’re here at CPAC 2021. You’re a member of the Ways and Means Committee, and you’ve been very, very vocal about this COVID stimulus bill that was just passed the other night.
Rep. Mike Kelly: Jan, most of the American people need to know—we already had a trillion dollars worth of money allocated, but not yet spent. Now we’re going to throw another 1.9 trillion on top of that, and only about 9 percent of it’s going to actually go to COVID relief. The other [part] is going to go to backing blue states that have not been able to run themselves the right way, and a lot of this money is given away. I have no problem with money that’s targeted towards helping American people. This is not targeted the right way. It’s targeted at helping all these blue states, and in projects that have nothing to do with COVID.
The one thing that bothers me is when people talk to me about it, they say. “Well, you know, it’s okay, because it’s government money.” I said, “Not one penny of it is government money. Every single penny of it came out of your pocket, you’re going to be co-signing on a debt that goes far into the future.” We know right now, between funded and unfunded liabilities, the total debt in the United States is over $130 trillion.
They talk so quickly about, “Oh, it’s $30 trillion we’re up to right now.” I said, “No, no. Funded and unfunded liabilities—$130 trillion.” We’re spending money like there’s no tomorrow. The old adage is, “Let’s measure twice, cut once.” Let’s make sure that every penny we spend, we get a positive return on that investment for our taxpayers, and we’re not doing that.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you have a sense of what is in this 91 percent that you’re describing? What are some of the things that you’re concerned about?
Rep. Kelly: If you look at it, and I don’t have it in front of me, but if you look at all these different items and you say, “Well, my goodness, some of these states you’re giving money to are already sitting on billions of dollars, so why are we plussing them up?” If you look at where the money is going—it’s to Democrat states, Democrat-led states. The numbers themselves are pretty raw, and I think people can go online and look at them.
But the item for item for item—what in this spending is actually going to help people that have had COVID? Then you get down to the point, no, it’s not. It’s going to go for a lot of other features, a lot of other promises that Speaker Pelosi made, and that’s what’s going to come to fruition right now. The sad thing is, again, I’m going to go back to what I said earlier. People don’t realize every penny being spent is coming out of a taxpayer’s pocket. It’s not government money. It’s your money being redistributed.
Mr. Jekielek: Of course, this is all happening in response to this pandemic that’s been plaguing the nation for the last year. How do you see us coming out of this at this point? What is your vision?
Rep. Kelly: I had COVID back in March of last year. In recovery, I’m also still a member of a plasma program because I still have the antibodies. When you look at this, I don’t know that we’re ever going to come out of this. This will always be one of those things we refer back to in footnotes when it comes to spending—don’t forget, don’t forget. If something happens let’s make the most use out of this, whatever the crisis is. The longer we linger with this, I’m looking at things—
Now, listen, I don’t want to see any fatalities. I don’t want to see anybody die. But the truth of the matter is, number one cause of death in the United States is not COVID. It’s heart disease. Number two is cancer. One of the things that’s going undetected right now and unmentioned is the number of abortions that are taking place right now in the United States. So when we talk about COVID, I think we passed a half-a-million people that COVID is being targeted as the cause. In some cases it is [the cause]; in some cases, it isn’t.
But we need to be sensible about these things. We know how to act responsibly. We know what we have to do to stay healthy. So follow the science on it to a degree where it’s actual science and not just people talking and saying it’s science. You know how to live your life and I know how to live my life responsibly.
I think we look at it that way. We open our schools back up again, we open our businesses back up again, and we just pay attention to what it is we have to do. Every year in the fall, we have the flu season. Everybody gets their shot for the flu season, and we still have a large number of deaths from the flu going forward. This time it’s about COVID-19. It’s a different program getting much more attention than other causes that we need to work on.
Mr. Jekielek: We’re here in Florida. Florida, obviously, has taken a very specific open approach. They’ve basically stayed open largely throughout, and this is quite different from your state. Are you trying to implement some kinds of changes there?
Rep. Kelly: Jan, I wish we could do something. What we can do in Pennsylvania with, of course, our legislature and our governor—I would like to think that there will be some more awareness of what other states are doing that are successfully opening up and work with that same model. I don’t know why we have blinders on.
We talked a lot about what happened in New York. If you just go straight across the southern border of New York you’re in Pennsylvania. You’d have a tough time telling the difference between the two governors in the way they’ve handled this. Our own secretary of health at one point took her mother out of a senior living center and took her to a private hotel, because she didn’t want to subject her to the possibilities of getting this COVID.
My question is, if you can do that, as part of the Wolf administration, what are the rest of us supposed to think? Is there a double standard? Where did the concerns really lie? And is it that more policy that needs to be put into place? Absolutely. Take the politics out of it and look at the policy. It’s a lot better for everybody.
But in Pennsylvania right now, I just don’t see them changing very quickly. Governor Wolf has shown that he’s pretty much going to take that same line. We’re opening very slowly, open, close, open—some people open, some people close. Look, it’s just not very consistent. Small businesses especially are really getting hurt.
Mr. Jekielek: In the reality of the Congress today, Democratic control of the House, Democratic control of the Senate, and Democratic control of the administration, what are you going to be doing? What can you do over the next two or more years?
Rep. Kelly: What we can do is we can take a look at legislation that’s coming forward. We can offer amendments, but the reality of it is that when you’re in the minority, you are in the minority. The majority makes all the decisions. The majority is, of course, going to roll. While we can participate, our amendments are not going to get considered, they’re going to be voted down.
What we can do is just keep a close eye on it and watch. Then tell our constituents: look, I don’t care how you’re registered or how you vote, keep an eye on what your legislature is doing to you and stay in touch with them. Don’t let it just pass.
Mr. Jekielek: Are you expecting you’ll be able to propose some by bipartisan legislation?
Rep. Kelly: Yes, we just did in a markup last week. We proposed going to the IRS, because the IRS has just had a load of work on it and most of the IRS people, too many of them are working at home, so they don’t have access to the same type of technology that they should have.
We want to establish a hotline, because we still have a lot of people who are still waiting for their first stimulus check. We have 2019 tax returns that have never been processed. There’s just a backlog of work, so the hotline may help people get through that situation.
The other thing just while we’re talking about it, I have people tell me all the time, “The IRS called me about something.” I said, “The IRS will never call you. If it’s not in a letter from the IRS, please do not stay on the phone and talk with anybody. That’s a sham.” So there’s a lot going on right now. Look, it’s going to take a while for us to get out of this. And as I said, the IRS, some of them are working from home. We don’t have the same boots on the ground or at their desks that we need to get through this high volume of work that has yet to be done.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts?
Rep. Kelly: No, other than the fact that, listen, I know a lot of people were discouraged with this year’s election. One of the things that alarms me more than anything else, I have too many of my friends coming up to me and telling me, ” You know what, I don’t trust what happened. I don’t like what happened. You know what? I’m never gonna vote again.” I said, “Oh my goodness, that is the worst thing you can do. As soon as you walk away from it, it’s over.”
I just tell all the people I talk to: get more informed, pay attention, get involved in your local races, especially in your school boards, and find out who’s on your school boards, and who’s dictating textbooks and curriculum in the school district you live in. We need to really take a long, hard look at that, because we’ve ceded a lot of that to a far-leftist philosophy. I think it’s very dangerous.
Our children are not getting the information they need to get. This cancel culture thing has really taken a toll on what it is that we believe we are and who we are. We have to really stand up right now, and make sure that we’re there every day defending what we know to be true.
Mr. Jekielek: Congressman Mike Kelly, such a pleasure.
Rep. Kelly: Jan, thank you. Good being with you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.