OP-ED: Billions states don’t need, Lush leave for fed workers: Dems’ COVID relief is a mess

Published 12:44 am Sunday, March 7, 2021

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John Cornyn- R (TX)

(Editor’s note: In advance of the Senate vote on Democrats’ partisan “COVID relief” bill, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) authored the following op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram highlighting all the non-COVID related items on the Democrats’ wish list they included in the bill.)

Funding for “climate justice.” A bailout for mismanaged union pension plans. A new subway system for Silicon Valley. These are just a few of the ways Democrats plan to spend your tax dollars in their $1.9 trillion “COVID relief bill.”

Unlike any of the five relief packages signed into law last year, this bill has the support of only one party. It’s easy to see why. In addition to these ridiculous pet projects, this bill contains a long list of wasteful, counterproductive and partisan policies that fail to address the crisis at hand.

Let’s start with education. Since the pandemic hit, Congress has provided more than $100 billion for schools — more than half of which remains unspent. Texas schools have used federal funding to update air filtration systems, purchase protective equipment and implement regular disinfecting so kids can safely return to the classroom.

After all, the science is clear — if appropriate precautions are taken, it’s safe for schools to reopen. In December, the CDC estimated schools nationwide would need about $22 billion to reopen safely, so we are in a strong position to keep kids healthy and get them back on track.

Despite that, Democrats want another $130 billion for education, with no requirement that the funding even be used to get kids back in the classroom. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that, since so much money remains from the last relief bill, only 5% of the new money would flow to schools this fiscal year. The vast majority of funding would be spent between 2022 and 2028, when COVID-19 is behind us.

Then, there’s the windfall for state and local governments. At the start of the pandemic, Congress established a $150 billion relief fund to help such governments cover pandemic-related expenses as they lost tax revenues. By the end of 2020, the deadline to spend these funds, states were still sitting on billions of dollars.

We’re moving in the right direction — tax revenues are rebounding, unemployment is declining and consumer spending is rising. According to the budget office, the U.S. economy “is projected to return to its prepandemic level in mid-2021” even without additional federal aid.

It’s tough to reconcile that forecast with Democrats’ push to hand an additional $350 billion to state and local governments.

The ridiculous spending doesn’t stop there. This bill would also create an exclusive paid leave fund for federal employees. If their children aren’t physically in school full-time because of the pandemic, a parent could take home up to $1,400 a week in paid leave – that’s nearly triple the maximum unemployment benefit in Texas.

Democrats also attempted to more than double the minimum wage to $15 an hour in this COVID relief bill, only to have the Senate parliamentarian — its referee on rules — reject it. At a time when Texas’ small businesses are already struggling, Democrats want to impose even more job-killing mandates and put at least 1.4 million Americans out of work.

For the Biden administration to place such an emphasis on working together, trusting the science and unifying our country, it’s hard to believe this bill is its first legislative push. And Democrats are using the “budget reconciliation process” to bypass the normal route for legislation, which was used for each of the previous relief bills, so they can pass this bill without the support of a single Republican.

This $1.9 billion bill is not a response to the pandemic – it’s a Trojan horse for liberal priorities. Now is not the time to break the perfect record of overwhelmingly bipartisan COVID relief packages and ignore the recommendations of experts.

President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel once said: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” At least Democrats are heeding someone’s advice.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.