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Weekly Column: As In The Past, COVID Relief Should Be Bipartisan, Targeted

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Prior to the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan, Congress came together five times to pass bipartisan bills totaling roughly $4 trillion to help Americans weather the pandemic.  Recent economic projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) provide proof of their effectiveness, predicting a robust economic recovery.  We should be encouraged by this, as well as vaccine distribution underway, and look to fill any gaps in the response instead of just piling more taxpayer dollars on yet to be depleted programs.  Unfortunately, a bipartisan process is not what occurred in the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan I voted against when the Senate passed it by a vote of 50-49. 

The new Senate Majority’s decision to move forward with a budget resolution to quickly pass proposals lacking broad bipartisan support, rather than focusing on policies that will boost vaccine distribution and help get people back to work and our kids safely back to school, was disappointing.  The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan comes just a few short months after a $900 billion package was signed into law, and ignores estimates that roughly $1 trillion in enacted stimulus funding remains unspent.  It directed the Senate Finance Committee to increase the deficit by a staggering $1.3 trillion, without deliberating what polices would best grow our economy.  The Finance Committee did not debate amendments.  Rather, it was asked to rubber stamp partisan legislation passed in the House of Representatives.

The nearly $2 trillion package includes sweeping policy changes that deserved thorough, bipartisan scrutiny at the committee level.  According to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), “Only about 1 percent of the entire package goes toward COVID vaccines, and 5 percent is truly focused on public health needs surrounding the pandemic.  More than 15 percent of the package – about $300 billion – is spent on long-standing policy priorities that are not directly related to the current crisis.” 

Many of these longstanding wish-list items are in the Finance Committee’s jurisdiction.  Take the $350 billion bailout for states, many of which are running surpluses for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, including Idaho.  Taxpayers across the country should not have to bail out failed policies and poor fiscal management of certain states.  Consider the $86 billion bailout for the multiemployer pension system, which has been in crisis for several years.  Bipartisan proposals to address the problem were ignored in favor of using the reconciliation process to avoid reforms, leading to future bailouts.  Other longstanding policy priorities, such as expanding the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, and increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies, made it into the package, although neither is directly related to coronavirus relief.

Our economy is recovering.  Vaccine distribution and administration is well underway and accelerating.  The fight against COVID-19 is not over, and some further relief may have been appropriate following the enactment of the first five phases of relief.  However, there have been and continue to be strong disagreements on the scope and content of the current relief package, which should have been deliberated and debated through regular committee order.  Idahoans deserved a serious, bipartisan process focused on their most urgent needs: getting or keeping their kids in school, getting workers safely back on the job, keeping small businesses’ doors open and helping to reclaim a semblance of pre-pandemic life.  This partisan process resulted in a spending spree that grossly misses its mark, and places an undue burden on future generations.  I will continue to support bipartisan, targeted COVID relief for families affected by the pandemic, and pro-growth policies that will allow employers to reopen and rehire.

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A version of this guest column ran on FoxNews.Com.