Image: United States Congressman Kevin Brady, Republican of The Woodlands, served as the Republican Floor Manager for the $2.2 trillion Chinese coronavirus relief package, which passed the United States House of Representatives on Friday morning, March 27, 2020.
The Golden Hammer Staff Reports
Washington, D.C., March 27 – The United States House of Representatives passed the House Resolution 911, the Chinese coronavirus relief package, totaling $2.2 trillion in spending, the largest government spending package in American history. The vote, on Friday, March 27, 2020, was by voice vote and not a recorded vote.
The House approved the sweeping measure by a voice vote, as strong majorities of both parties lined up behind the most colossal economic relief bill in the nation’s history. It will ship payments of up to $1,200 to millions of Americans, bolster unemployment benefits, offer loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses large and small and flush billions more to states, local governments and the nation’s all but overwhelmed health care system.
Trump said he would sign the measure immediately at the White House.
Congressman Russ Fulcher, Republican of Idaho, said during the floor debate, “For the first time in history, we mandated that the economy shut down by law…When the government shut down the economy, it assumed the responsibility for the consequences.”
“While no one will agree with every part of this rescue bill, we face a challenge rarely seen in America’s history. We must act now, or the toll on lives and livelihoods will be far greater,” said Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of The Woodlands, who served as the Republican Floor Manager for the legislation.
The legislation will pour $1,200 direct payments to individuals and a flood of subsidized loans, grants and tax breaks to businesses facing extinction in an economic shutdown caused as Americans self-isolate by the tens of millions. It dwarfs prior Washington efforts to take on economic crises and natural disasters, such as the 2008 Wall Street bailout and President Barack Obama’s first-year economic recovery act.
But key elements are untested, such as grants to small businesses to keep workers on payroll and complex lending programs to larger businesses. Millions of rebate payments will go to people who have retained their jobs.
Policymakers worry that bureaucracies like the Small Business Administration may become overwhelmed, and conservatives fear that a new, generous unemployment benefit will dissuade jobless people from returning to the workforce. A new $500 billion subsidized lending program for larger businesses is unproven as well.
The bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $4 trillion-plus annual federal budget. The $2.2 trillion estimate is the White House’s best guess of the spending it contains.
The legislation would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year and $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child.
Unemployment insurance would be made far more generous, with $600 per week tacked onto regular state jobless payments through the end of July. States and local governments would receive $150 billion in supplemental funding to help them provide basic and emergency services during the crisis.
The legislation also establishes a $454 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries in hopes of leveraging up to $4.5 trillion in lending to distressed businesses, states, and municipalities. All would be up to the Treasury Department’s discretion, though businesses controlled by Trump or immediate family members and by members of Congress would be ineligible.
There was also $150 billion devoted to the health care system, including $100 billion for grants to hospitals and other health care providers buckling under the strain of COVID-19 caseloads.
Republicans successfully pressed for an employee retention tax credit that’s estimated to provide $50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50% of workers’ paycheck up to $10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax. A huge tax break for interest costs and operating losses limited by the 2017 tax overhaul was restored at a $200 billion cost in a boon for the real estate sector.
An additional $45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.
Watchdog groups that track government spending and oversight said the bill wasn’t perfect, but provides essential resources as the pandemic worsens. Sean Moulton, a senior policy analyst at Project On Government Oversight, said his group is encouraged that there is “more than one lens of accountability” for the businesses that will be receiving the money.
“We’re pleased that they aren’t putting all of their oversight eggs in one basket,” Moulton said.
Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said she believed that Trump’s declaration that he could personally oversee the process likely ensured that stronger provisions were included. “It showed his hand,’’ Gilbert said.
The bedrock of the new oversight is the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which will be made up of independent inspectors general. Modeled after a similar board created to monitor the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program that rescued banks, the panel will have the ability to obtain documents, coordinate audits and identify waste and abuse. The board will report what they find on a central website.
Separately, Trump will appoint a special inspector general inside the Treasury Department who will be able to inspect records and review how the money is doled out. That position will be confirmed by the Senate – a process that could take weeks if the chamber stays out until April 20, when senators are currently scheduled to return.
The spending bill contains substantial pork:
- $1 billion to the money-losing Amtrak railroad “for operating assistance to cover revenue losses related to coronavirus. In addition, funding is provided to help states pay for their share of the cost of state-supported routes.”
- $353 million for “international disaster assistance” to “continue to address humanitarian and health needs in coronavirus-affected areas abroad.”
- $350 million for noncitizen refugees and immigrants to receive government assistance.
- $300 million to the Social Security Administration “to help SSA keep up with key workloads, make up for lost productivity, and otherwise improve the ability of the agency to serve the public.”
- $150 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities to provide “funding to state arts agencies and other partners in an effort to help local, state, and regional communities provide continued access to cultural organizations and institutions of learning.”
- $75 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting “for stabilization grants to maintain programming services and to preserve small and rural public telecommunication stations.”
- $25 million for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for “deep cleaning, increased teleworking capabilities, and operating and administrative expenses to ensure the Center will resume normal operations immediately upon reopening.”