On social media and the president’s twitter account there has been a lot conflation of the recently passed COVID-19 relief package and the rest of the bill. At a basic level this is understandable, since the final votes were on one big piece of legislation. But, on further scrutiny it seems to be a mendacious attempt to create cynicism about government.
The whole package includes more than $900 billion in COVID-19 relief, $2.4 trillion in an Omnibus spending bill funding government for fiscal year 2021, and dozens of other bills ranging from large packages like the Water Resources Development Act (water projects and policy for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) to very small legislation dealing with Tibet.
It is completely fair to disagree with any of the individual pieces or the process that cobbled this colossus together. We certainly do. For example: some have criticized the COVID-19 package — there should have been more individual assistance, the Paycheck Protection Program restructuring should have better targeted small businesses, there is not enough aid to states, or many other facets. We have certainly said that there should have been more resources for accountability and oversight. And we have many criticisms of the Omnibus spending bill and some of the specific legislation.
What is not fair is to point out some provision in the Omnibus or one of the added on pieces of legislation and complain that they are part of the COVID-19 relief or that their existence short-changed a COVID relief program. That’s because they are not and did not. They are separate pieces of legislation that were jammed together in this Frankenstein’s monster because this legislative package appeared to be the last train leaving the Capitol Hill station and if a legislative priority wasn’t aboard it wasn’t getting enacted in the 116th Congress.
So, for instance, people can argue if foreign aid is worthwhile or not, or whether at a little more than one percent of the discretionary budget, it is too much. But you can’t argue that aid to Egypt is in the pandemic relief package – because it is not.
In fact, you could argue that the COVID-19 relief legislation wouldn’t have gotten done without the imperative of funding government to avoid a shutdown. The rolling expiration of short-term continuing resolutions funding government at last year’s funding levels was what kept the negotiators at the table and created much of the impetus for action.
Waiting to the last minute and jamming every piece of legislation you can find into an enormous package that nobody has read, is a terrible way to run a government. But let’s be honest about what we have. This package is the product of a budget and spending process broken long before this week. It’s going to take more than dishonest memes and Twitter tirades to fix.