THE PAPERS say that President Biden is going big on his ideas for a new stimulus package/ covid relief bill. And that the price has now reached $1.9 trillion. When pressed by the press on the price tag, the president chided pressing reporters: “Critics say my plan is too big. Let me ask them: What would they have me cut? What would they have me leave out?” But the day that story appeared in the papers, somebody asked: Well, what’s in it? What are the line items in this new behemoth of a spending bill? Sure, folks know about the next round of $1,400 payments to individuals, and those who study the news a little closer might know that billions more go toward buying more covid-19 vaccine. But that’s far from everything in the legislation.
Certain government and NGOs had wonderful rundowns about the last round of stimulus in late December, but only after the legislation was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. You have to go looking for details of these things before the president signs them.
National Public Radio—not Fox News—had a few “highlights” and a handful of details about the latest bill. And USA Today—not Fox News—also gave it the old college try. After reading about a half-dozen news accounts, we came up with this list of what’s included in the new spending package. (Thanks to news reports this week from The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, NPR, the AP story in this paper, CNN and USA Today.) But this is by no means an exhaustive list: Stimulus checks, up to $1,400 for people earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000. Including $1,400 for dependents, regardless of age. According to The Washington Post, this would cost about $422 billion.
The bill, for now, also lifts the federal minimum wage to $15 over the next four years. But because that detail doesn’t cost the government money, and this is supposed to be budget legislation, that item didn’t make it past the parliamentarian in the Senate.
There’s $25 billion for “emergency rental assistance,” including $5 billion for “emergency housing vouchers” for homeless folks and victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.
$7.5 billion for Centers for Disease Control to distribute covid-19 vaccines. Including $1 billion to educate the public on the vaccine.
$10 billion for more medical supplies and equipment.
$7.25 billion more for the Paycheck Protection Program.
$25 billion to the Small Business Association for a new “grant program.” Details scarce.
More than $128 billion in grants to state education departments.
$39 billion in grants to colleges and universities.
Nearly $15 billion in support of child-care operators, especially in high-need areas. As defined by the government, apparently. But those details are scarce, too.
$1 billion for Head Start.
$4.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
$1.4 billion to fund the Older Americans Act, including money for nutrition programs and the National Family Caregiver Support Program.
$30 billion for airlines, aerospace manufacturing, Amtrak and transportation companies in general.
$50 billion for disaster relief through FEMA.
$350 billion for state and local government bail-outs. According to a Wall Street Journal editorial: “Last year’s CARES Act distributed money mainly by state population, but much of the $220 billion for states in the new bill will be allocated based on average unemployment over the three-month period ending in December. Andrew Cuomo’s New York (8.2 percent unemployment in December) and Gavin Newsom’s California (9 percent) get rewarded for crushing their businesses, while Kristi Noem’s South Dakota (3 percent) is penalized for staying open.” $35 billion to help people pay for Obamacare premiums.
$1 billion for “world food assistance.” Something like $4 billion to pay off loans of “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers (!), whoever they are and wherever they may be.
THAT’S a partial list of just the billion-dollar projects. Obviously there are many more million-dollar line items as U.S. representatives load up on local projects. And other items will fall short of a million, and thus fall short of the news columns.
Doubtless there will be many who will like these proposals. Who’s against small business, schools or older Americans? Just as doubtless, there will be items in this massive bill that will make Americans shake their heads, even pound the table. The point is, shouldn’t We the People have some idea about what our elected representatives are putting on our children’s national credit card?
If the president wants to have the debate about “what would they have me cut?” then his government should be more transparent about what the options are. And for starters explain why, exactly, it takes $4 billion (but not $5 billion, or $3 billion) to help socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
We are in favor of spending to help us get out of the pandemic. But much of this has nothing to do with the pandemic. And continuing to enlarge the national debt towards $30 trillion is indeed a national security threat, and one every American will pay for, one way or the other.