Republicans distorting the facts on COVID relief | Editorial

Posted Mar 02, 2021

The COVID stimulus bill is expected to limbo its way through the Senate without a single Republican vote, which means half the chamber will spend the week whingeing about how the package is too big for the economy’s actual needs, that its spending misses its targets, and that too much of it is unrelated to the pandemic itself.

These are reasonable topics for legislative debate, but one side has filled the Sunday chat shows and other outlets with terminological inexactitudes, as Churchill would call them.

The Republicans might actually gain sympathy if they argued against the merits of the popular relief bill, but instead they have chosen to smear it with bumper-sticker demagoguery and brazen lies.

The whopper teetering at the top of their pile of talking points asserts that only 9% of the $1.9 trillion goes toward “public health spending.”

It is true that the plan directs $160 billion to a national vaccination program, the expansion of testing, a public health jobs initiative, and other measures to fight the virus. If that’s the 9% they refer to, they are in the ballpark.

But that distortion has been repeated ad nauseum by Sabbath gasbags over the last two weeks.

Another $358 billion has been allotted toward the safe reopening of schools and emergency paid leave for people who tested positive for the virus.

Any rational person would agree that extending paid sick leave and refitting school rooms so they can manage outbreaks are critical investments in public health — even if they are listed under the “Education and Labor” section of the bill. There is also funding to subsidize insurance coverage for laid-off workers.

Add it up, and nearly a quarter of the stimulus budget is for “public health spending.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted her disdain for the bill by assailing the funding for things like arts, museums, library services, family planning, climate justice, and “Pelosi’s subway.

Last thing first: The bill includes $30 billion to bail out desperate transit agencies, which are going broke from coast to coast, and one happens to extend the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) system in San Jose, which is an hour away from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district. Others are in places like Indiana and Arizona, the New York Times points out.

As for the rest of that “liberal wish list” that Blackburn derides, the Times calculated that these items total 0.03% (three-tenths of 1 percent, or $547 million) of the bill’s overall cost.

Blackburn also claimed that $50 million of this tranche will go to “services including Planned Parenthood,” and that’s also a distortion: State-level health departments — including the one in her state — will get similar grants for family planning.

More misleading blather was served up by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, who told Fox News that stimulus grants are going to “illegal immigrant families.”

He didn’t mention that couples who file taxes jointly only require have one valid Social Security number to get a stimulus check — specifically, the $1,400 check for an individual, not the $2,800 for couples. Citizens get paid, but spouses who are undocumented immigrants do not, even if they are taxpayers.

And House Republican whip Steve Scalise dropped a dud on ABC last week, claiming that “over a trillion dollars” still hasn’t been spent from previous relief bills.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget keeps a COVID spending tracker, and found that $775 billion in “unspent” funds — specifically for loans and Medicaid — are in the pipeline and were always intended to be distributed over time.

It bears repeating that Republicans also predicted last summer that the $600 supplement would discourage unemployed workers from searching for jobs. That was another airball: JP Morgan Chase found it “played little role” and that the expanded benefits “boosted the spending and saving among jobless workers.” Other studies concurred.

Anyone can make miscalculations, but the Party of Trump has been making them with lethal regularity since this nightmare began. If they cannot negotiate a solution in good faith, they should get used to being on the sidelines for a while.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-03-03 02:35:16 -0800