House Republicans sent a strong signal on Monday that they won’t back a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending package, arguing it is loaded with “special interest pork and other liberal goodies.”
GOP lawmakers volleyed the criticism just before the Democrat-run House Budget Committee advanced the legislation to the floor in a party-line vote. All Republicans voted against it. One Democrat, Lloyd Doggett, voted “no,” but the Texan said later that he meant to vote in favor of it.
The measure provides $1.9 trillion in new spending, but much of it is aimed at projects unrelated to the coronavirus. Republicans created a pie chart that depicts the $160 billion in virus aid as a mere 8% of overall spending. Billions in spending would go to liberal groups and unions and would bail out state and local governments that have enforced lockdowns and carried out bad fiscal policies such as underfunding government pensions, Republicans argue.
“Democrats are more focused on bailing out their political allies than helping the working class,” Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, who is the top Republican on the budget panel, said on Monday.
The GOP criticized a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, which would result in about 1.4 million fewer jobs, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“It’s clear Democrats are using a global pandemic as a vehicle to pass their far-left agenda,” Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, said.
The measure would provide unemployment benefits that disincentivize work, Republicans said, by providing the unemployed a 53% increase in jobless benefits.
The measure would also provide stimulus checks and healthcare subsidies to some illegal immigrants and an additional $130 billion for public schools, regardless of whether they are open or remain shuttered.
“Schools need to be reopened,” Rep. Trent Kelly, a Mississippi Republican, said. “Now, we are pushing that timeline back.”
Democrats countered the GOP criticism with their own statistics: The United States marked a grim milestone this week by surpassing half a million deaths due to COVID-19, although cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are declining in many places.
“We are in a race against time. Aggressive, bold action is needed before our nation is more deeply and permanently scarred by the human and economic cost of inaction,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, said Monday. “We have the plan to beat the virus, to safely reopen schools, to quickly and equitably distribute vaccines, to deliver immediate relief to working families, and to support communities struggling with the economic fallout.”
The measure is poised to pass the House later this week, and it then heads to the Senate, where significant if not universal GOP opposition is likely.
Republicans highlighted unrelated spending in the bill during the mark up Monday. The measure provides $135 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $200 million for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.“That’s not COVID Relief, it’s a liberal handout,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said Monday.
On the Senate floor on Monday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the bill includes an ideological wish list and ignores the real needs of a nation on the mend from the pandemic.
“It looks more like another big bandage for a mostly shutdown country rather than a launching pad to help us get back on offense,” McConnell said.