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The real problem with Democrats' 'COVID relief' bill

Last week, after getting criticized in their home districts, Democrats finally announced plans to scrap two major pet projects from their so-called "COVID-19 relief" bill, a $1.9 trillion piece of legislation mostly consisting of provisions not directly related to public health spending.

These scrapped projects, which Democrats voted for and passed in the House already, included hundreds of millions in funding for a bridge in New York and a tunnel in San Francisco, coincidentally not far from where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer call home. This episode is emblematic of the overarching problems with this current COVID-19 spending bill: Not only is it completely partisan, it also contains billions in wasteful spending that does not support reopening the economy, returning teachers and children safely to school, or providing vaccines to everyone who wants one.

There is bipartisan support for direct relief. Last year, Congress and the Trump administration struck deals on four separate occasions to deliver bipartisan relief amid the global pandemic. The Democrats’ current bill is neither direct nor relief. Instead, Democratic leaders are using the first recovery package under their leadership as a partisan vehicle to ram through their long-standing ideological priorities, often unrelated to the relief that so many families, small businesses, and communities have been urgently requesting. After all, it was former Obama confidant Rahm Emanuel who infamously said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Addressing this crisis should not be treated as a political opportunity. It's a public obligation.

The truth is in the numbers: 91% of the original bill that House Democrats passed in the dead of night last week does not even deal with public health. Only 9% goes toward directly defeating the virus. The GOP Doctors Caucus, which I co-chair, put forward nine different amendments to provide support for everything from getting people back to work to getting children safely back to schools to getting people vaccinated. Every single one was voted down on a party line. Instead, we see an additional $1.5 billion for Amtrak, which is already sitting on roughly $1 billion of unspent aid. It allocates $50 million for Environmental Protection Agency "environmental justice grants." And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The "COVID-19 relief" bill aside, the bigger problem is that our country is at a critical point in our fight against this virus. We don’t have time for the majority party to prioritize partisan wish lists when we have a pandemic to defeat. In total, approximately $1 trillion from previous bipartisan packages is still unspent and could be repurposed for urgent needs. Instead, Democrats seem to want to profit off people’s pain and use this moment to ram through unrelated progressive priorities. Funding fiscal failures, without reform, does not "rescue" anyone from a deadly virus.

We don’t have time for this because our economy needs to be rebuilt. Our rhythms of daily life need to be restored. Our children’s futures need to be reclaimed. Right now, we should be investing in the tangible reasons we have for hope, not stoking further fear or deepening the political divide. In just over six weeks, new infections have fallen nearly 70% nationwide. More than 78 million vaccine doses have been administered across the country. For perspective, that means more people have now received at least one dose than have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. At this critical moment, our resources should be directed toward continuing to manufacture, distribute, administer, and track COVID-19 vaccines, as well as to target assistance for the most vulnerable and hard-hit.


We also don’t have time for this because our collective health is suffering — especially our children’s mental health. The damage that this extended isolation is doing to our children is a crisis in its own right. I’ve spoken personally to parents from across the country, and the stories are painful. Aside from plummeting grades, our children are struggling with depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, and even suicide. Through most of 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits, for reasons such as panic and anxiety, spiked for young people. Cases were up by 24% for young children and 31% for adolescents, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, Democrats’ solution to all of these issues is a $1.9 trillion bill that heaps money onto school districts with no requirements to reopen and pays people not to work, all while prioritizing their political leaders’ pet projects. This is not just “politics as usual.” This is just wrong.

People deserve better — for their health, for their children, and for their futures.

This piece originally ran in the Washington Examiner.