Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

COVID Relief Bill Losing Focus as Details Emerge

Feb 17, 2021 | Other Spending

For Immediate Release

As House lawmakers move forward on a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, details of the legislation indicate a trend of funds being diverted to less pressing priorities or provisions unrelated to the pandemic and recovery. Below is a statement from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

“The goal of COVID relief is to end the pandemic, protect incomes, and support the economic recovery. The House bill not only spends far more than is needed to achieve these goals, but also puts too many of these plentiful dollars in the wrong places.

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. Meanwhile, nearly half of the package will be spent on poorly targeted rebate checks and state and local government aid, including to households and governments that have experienced little or no financial loss during this crisis.

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.

Perhaps most concerning, the House Ways & Means Committee appears to have made space for the pension bailout by only extending expanded unemployment benefits through August, cutting them off a month earlier than President Biden proposed, and many months earlier than they should be. These multiemployer pensions have been on shaky ground for some time and ought to be dealt with transparently, where lawmakers can appropriately finance and reform these plans. The financial status of these funds shouldn’t be addressed in a piece of crisis legislation, and certainly not at the cost of benefits for unemployed workers. Frankly, no member of Congress should be willing to defend this.

In addition to this pension bailout, the bill includes a number of other long-standing priorities, such as expanding the child tax credit and earned income tax credit, increasing Affordable Care Act subsidies, and boosting the minimum wage. These policies don’t belong in a COVID relief package, and should be fully offset if retained.

This legislation is supposed to be about ending the pandemic, reviving the economy, and providing Americans the financial relief they need to make it through this tough stretch. We support a targeted package that does just that. It is disappointing to see House committees straying from that mission. It’s time to refocus.

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For more information, please contact John Buhl, director of media relations, at buhl@crfb.org.