I already knew 2020 was going to go down as one of the strangest years in recent history. But then something even stranger happened, even by 2020 standards. I found myself agreeing with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D.-N.Y. This was greatly disturbing on many levels as one can imagine as few other member of Congress have been more stridently left (or wrong).
But then there was her tweet on Tuesday ripping into the manner in which the massive spending bill, with a COVID relief bill attached, was presented.
“Members of Congress have not read this bill,” she tweeted. “It’s over 5,000 pages, arrived at 2 p.m. today, and we are told to expect a vote in 2 hours. This is not governance, this is hostage-taking.”
But then my concerns over our intersecting thoughts (except for the “hostage-taking” part) were assuaged when she went ahead and voted yes on it anyway. Nothing says due diligence like voting on a bill you had no idea what it contained. But let’s be fair, it wasn’t just her.
The massive omnibus spending bill and attached COVID relief bill were passed by huge margins with the House passing it by a vote of 359-53 and in the Senate by a vote of 92-6. Clearly, few had read it but did not want to appear to be unsympathetic to the plight of Americans’ financial hardships over the past several months, and equally important, were anxious to start their Christmas break.
But it didn’t take long for many to likely regret their rushed votes, which included a paltry $600 check to Americans, which was made to look practically egregious when people started noting the amounts of money that were being thrown around, particularly to foreign entities in the omnibus spending bill.
You have likely seen or heard about some of the more outrageous amounts. While Americans struggle to survive under imposed lockdown conditions in the name of COVID-19, Congress was approving “not less than $10 million” for Pakistan gender programs. Its hurried vote also approved $700 million to Sudan, $85 million to Cambodia. On and on it went.
President Trump said Tuesday night he would veto any such bill and demanded $2,000 to each qualified American instead of the paltry $600. He also called for the removal of the pork. Now, if the numbers that passed the bill held, it would be an easy override of a veto, but as more information emerged about the pork contained in the spending bill, the less likely our esteemed members of Congress would be to override the veto.
Proof of that came shortly thereafter when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calf., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D.-N.Y., quickly came out in favor of the $2,000 figure, but no mention of the other spending. The House appears ready to move via a unanimous consent decree toward approving the higher stimulus amount.
But is the bigger picture being lost here? Namely, if these restrictions and shutdowns continue, how much is going to be enough? What amount is going to be enough to compensate for the destruction to life savings and shuttered businesses?
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R.-Ky., nailed it in a speech on the floor of the Senate on Monday.
“It isn’t the pandemic that’s killing the economy, it’s the government overzealous response that is killing the economy,” he said. “The pandemic itself was destructive, but Congress is being asked to help perpetuate these lockdowns. The more money we give to the states, the more they keep us in lockdowns. Every bailout dollar printed and passed out to the governors only allows these tin-pot dictators to perpetuate the lockdowns. Their rules are arbitrary and unscientific. Governors and mayors across the country are picking winners and losers.”
He went on to note businesses are being wiped out and restaurants are falling victim to random restrictions that can vary even from zip code to zip code.
Paul also made the point that throwing money at people isn’t going to solve it, whether it’s $600, $2,000 or whatever amount.
He’s right, of course, and at least he had the courage of his convictions and voted against the bill.
The only thing that will provide true relief is lifting these seemingly capricious and arbitrary restrictions on Americans and American business. Otherwise, we are going to see more and more rounds of payments under the guise of providing relief when the only real relief will come when the enormous, crushing weight of the lockdowns are lifted.
That would be the true measure of compassion, not some stopgap monetary handouts.
Ruthenberg is a multiple award-winning columnist and writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.