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Who Is Playing Politics With The Coronavirus Relief Bill?

The answer is apparently "everyone."

When the Senate voted down the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) bill on two successive days, both sides were quick to point the finger at the other. Democrats accused Republicans of attempting to push through an unaccountable slush fund while Republicans charged Democrats with reneging on previous agreements. In reality, it seems that there is truth to both arguments.

A main Democratic reason for rejecting the cloture vote on the bill was a $500 billion “Exchange Stabilization Fund” embedded in the bill. The fund would be controlled by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. There was bipartisan disagreement over language in the bill that would allow Mnuchin to withhold the names and amounts that companies received for up to six months.

“We’re gonna give $500 billion in basically a slush fund to help industries controlled by Mnuchin with very little transparency? Is that what we ought to be doing?” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii.) asked in Politico.

Even moderate Democrats like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin opposed the provision.

“It’s throwing caution to the wind for the average person working on Main Street, it’s balls to the walls for the people working on Wall Street,” Manchin said. “It’s the same old story from Mitch McConnell.”

Conservative former Republican, Rep. Just Amash (I-Mich.) also tweeted his opposition.

Per Politico, Democrats compared the fund to 2008’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, which included a Financial Stability Oversight Board, a Congressional Oversight Panel, a special inspector general, and periodic review by the General Accountability Office. The Coronavirus fund did not include any of these measures.

Additionally, the bill fell short on other requests by the Democrats. The measure included three months of unemployment compensation payments rather than four and lower amounts than Democrats had proposed for emergency funds for health care providers and state governments.

A Democrat source familiar with the bill also told The Hill that Republicans were “refusing to add strong worker protections” and had included “very weak” stock buyback prohibitions. Democrats worry that the language of the bill would allow companies to take federal money and still lay off workers.

President Trump apparently agreed with these concerns, telling the Washington Post, “I don’t want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus. So, I may be Republican, but I don’t like that. I want them to use the money for the workers.”

On the other hand, Republicans accused Democrats of stuffing the bill with a laundry list of unrelated items. Philip Wegman of Real Clear News cited a Republican source who claimed that Democrats wanted to include provisions related to collective bargaining, airline fuel emissions, and green energy tax credits.

The Democratic aide who spoke to The Hill also admitted that Democrats were opposed to wording of the bill that would exclude nonprofit organizations from the Small Business Administration loans. Per the aide, the wording would exclude Planned Parenthood as well as community health centers, rape crisis centers, and disability service providers.

Other provisions of the bill currently include:

  • Payments of $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children, but that start to phase out above the $75,000 income level
  • $425 billion for companies, states, and cities
  • $50 billion for passenger airlines
  • $8 billion for cargo airlines
  • $17 billion for firms important to national security
  • $350 billion in loans for small businesses that could be forgiven

In answer to the question of who is playing politics with the Coronavirus relief bill, the answer is apparently “everyone.” While Democrats are wrong for holding up the bill to add unrelated matters and insisting on spending levels that could be increased in subsequent bills if necessary, Republicans are also wrong to try to avoid accountability for hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus funds. If any Administration has even needed congressional oversight, it is this one.

Both sides should put aside partisan concerns and find a way to compromise on a bill that is badly needed to prevent an economic collapse. The bill should be streamlined to get the money to individuals and businesses who need it but should also include adequate congressional oversight for where the money goes.

“You know what the American people are thinking right now?” Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) asked rhetorically. “They’re thinking that the brain is an amazing organ. It starts working in a mother’s womb and it doesn’t stop working until you get elected to Congress.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

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