On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133), which contains in it the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act. This omnibus bill carries a price tag of $2.3 trillion dollars — $1.4 trillion in regular annual appropriations that keep the federal government running, and $900 billion in supplemental appropriations for Coronavirus relief.
Under this bill, a $600 check will be sent to people who made up to $75,000 in 2019. As of this writing, President Trump’s demand that Congress cut “unnecessary” expenses and increase direct payments to $2,000, might be DOA in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has attached a couple of powerful poison pills to the proposal (elections investigation and repeal of legal protections for social media platforms) which Democrats are unlikely to approve.
Situation Chaotic But Normal
The signing came after several weeks of haggling in Congress and four days of objections by President Trump – not an unusual situation. Legislators are under pressure to bring the bacon home to their constituents, so compromises can get lengthy. Presidents do not have line-item veto power, so they must approve or veto an entire bill.
The approve-the-whole-bill or veto-the-whole-bill process leads to pork-laden bills landing in a President’s desk.
In a video release President Trump strongly objected to “wasteful” expenditures in the Appropriations Bill. He would have preferred less “unnecessary” spending and more Coronavirus relief. However, he had to sign the whole bill in order to fund relief and fund government operations.
The Consolidated Appropriations bill occupies 5,593 minutiae-filled pages – 3,280 pages more than last year’s bill. The House Committee on Appropriations website has brief summary of the bill plus links to specific sections (called “Divisions”).
Divisions A through L are regular appropriations, Divisions M and N deal with Coronavirus Relief, and Divisions O through Z are Authorizing Matters unrelated to the funding of regular or Coronavirus appropriations.
This massive bill was delivered to Congress shortly before a vote was expected, not an unusual situation, but much worse than last years’ 24-hour reading allocation of 2,313 pages.
Focus of Coronavirus Relief
As numerous news outlets have reported, the focus of the $900 billion Coronavirus Relief is direct payments to citizens, forgivable loans to businesses, and extension of federal unemployment subsidies ($300 per week).
There are many other provisions, like: Funding of cultural and entertainment venues. A campaign to increase awareness of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and combat misinformation. Funding for low-income families that pay for drinking water and wastewater services.
Focus of the Annual Appropriations
The $1.4 trillion regular annual appropriations include the usual, very wide, domestic and international funding. “Very wide” means funding the average American would probably not fathom. For example:
Not less than $20 million for the recruitment and retention of women in the Afghanistan National Security Forces—twice the amount specified last year. Division C – Defense
Up to $500 million for Jordan, including not less than less than $150 million for reimbursements for enhanced border security. Division C – Defense
$116 million for the wild horse and burro program, $15 million above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level. Division G – Interior/Environment
Here are a couple of samples of the Authorizing Matters in the Appropriations and Coronavirus Relief Bill 20121:
Establishes, within the Smithsonian Institution, the Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino.” Division T – Smithsonian
Requires the Secretary of Energy to conduct a study on the benefits of blue hydrogen technology and how that can further enhance the deployment and adoption of carbon capture and storage.” Division Z – Energy, Title IV Carbon Management
Who Voted No
Not everyone in Congress felt pressured to concur with this bill.
In the House, 50 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 1 Libertarian voted against the bill. The two Democrats issued strong statement explaining their vote:
Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) – We will be back here in a month because the suffering will have gotten much worse because there has been a lack of bold action and priorities to put people first.
Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) – $600 is a slap in the face to every American struggling due to the pandemic. You deserve better. I voted against the 5,593-page spending bill that gave billions to corporate interests, the military industrial complex & other countries, leaving crumbs for you who need help most.
In the Senate, 6 Senators, all Republicans, voted NO. They objected to the bill’s price tag in light of an already perilous national debt, the nearly 6,000 pages of complex legislation that nobody had time to read, and the process by which just a few legislators craft bills and expect automatic approval from everyone else. Here is a sample of the Senator’s frustration:
Rick Scott (R-Florida) – Once again, in classic Washington style, vital programs are attached to a massive omnibus spending bill that mortgages our kids & grandkid’s future. Therefore, I can’t support this bill.
Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) – The dysfunction of Washington, D.C. was on full display as Congress combined covid relief with a massive omnibus spending bill three months past the deadline and into the current fiscal year. This monstrosity was 5,593 pages long, and passed only nine hours after the Senate first saw it.
Mike Lee (R-Utah) – This process, by which members of Congress are asked to defer blindly to legislation negotiated entirely in secret by four of their colleagues, must come to an end.
And the Spending Goes On
Constituents clamor for relief – this time from the economic effects of Coronavirus response – and legislators are happy to oblige by passing massive spending bills. The idea of cutting back on non-urgent spending to allocated funds to urgent challenges is anathema to most legislators.
The U.S. national debt is $27.5 trillion, and debt to GDP is 128.9%. No matter, say the bulk of today’s legislators. What used to be a derisive accusation – making money out of thin air – is now accepted as Modern Monetary Theory. Government keeps producing money by borrowing, legislators keep spending, and the people are happily appeased. Think no further!