It is Congress’s responsibility to “pay the debt and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” yet despite knowing for months that the country desperately needs both pandemic relief and a plan to deal with it to keep the government going, America’s legislature has only just gotten around to passing legislation to keep the US from tipping itself off from another fiscal cliff.
With just days to go before the end of 2020 and the start of a new year, the House and Senate have approved a combined $2.3 trillion pandemic relief package and bulk appropriation bill.
The legislation is around 5,600 pages and was finalized a few hours ago, so it’s a safe assumption that pretty much nobody has read it in full.
Regardless, the deed is done.
Agreement was reached, votes were taken, and legislation passed to the executive branch. If the fiscal megabill agreed in Congress is signed by Donald Trump as expected, it will become law.
The appeal from the Pacific Northwest unanimously supported the bill all seventeen US representatives from Washington, Oregon and Idaho vote yes and All six US Senators also voted yes.
Only two Democrats in the House of Representatives opposed the bill: Tulsi Gabbard and Rashida Tlaib. 50 Republicans and one independent voted against.
There were only six no votes in the Senate, all from Republicans (Marsha Blackburn, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, Mike Lee and Rick Scott).
Pandemic aid and funding for 2021 could have been passed much, much sooner and far less rushed if Mitch “The Grim Reaper” McConnell and his narrow-minded Republican faction in the Senate had not put their own interests and their desire to power the needs of the country first .
The draft law “doesn’t quite work, but it puts us on the path, a first step” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in speeches supporting the legislation.
“I have hope because of that [vaccine] and I hope because of the election of Joe Biden as President of the United States,” Pelosi said. “A president who follows science. He will follow the science and he will recognize that we must meet the needs of all Americans, wherever they live in our country, and in particular addressing Barbara Lee’s concerns about the communities of color that have been underserved in so much of what we have done. “
“I applaud Congress’ bipartisan economic assistance package, which will provide critical resources to fight COVID-19, including funding for vaccine distribution and much-needed temporary relief for workers, families and small businesses,” President-elect Joe Biden said in a statement yesterday released.
“This law provides critical temporary assistance to millions of Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, assistance to keep families in their homes and food on their tables; and direct payments to help Americans get through a dark winter,” said the President-elect.
“There are small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat, a lifeline, having previously found themselves at the end of the line to relief.”
“And it represents an important down payment on the investments that we need for vaccine procurement and distribution, helping to get these incredible vaccines across the country and to offer the American people protection and reassurance that at the end of the… tunnel’s light will be.”
Let’s start with the good news:
- The nationwide moratorium on evictions has been extended
- Over $3 billion has been allocated to help low-income people afford broadband internet during the pandemic
- Long-overdue cash payments are finally being made to mixed-status families
And the bad – this legislation:
- Provides $1.375 billion for Trump’s border wall
- Failing to address the COVID-19 crisis in jails and jails
- Offers dismal rental support
- Fails to ensure testing, treatment and vaccines for millions of immigrants
There is of course much, much more that the legislation does and does not do. At nearly 5,600 pages, there are millions upon millions of provisions in this law. Some are virtuous while others are malicious. It’s going to be a while before even seasoned, seasoned observers are able to independently analyze what’s in here.
However, thanks to our Congressional delegation, we have some details as to what some of these virtuous provisions are.
For example, Senator Maria Cantwell announced that she was able to secure pandemic aid for ailing newspapers and local media.
“The bill earmarks $284.5 billion for the entire Paycheck Protection Program, a new cash injection for a program that has been a lifeline for small businesses across the country, including 108,000 small businesses and nonprofits in Washington state, the PPP received $12.5 billion in loans,” according to Cantwell’s office.
“Cantwell’s determination represents a resolution to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) affiliation rule, which previously prevented local news outlets owned by larger parent companies from accessing PPP funding,” the senator’s staffers wrote.
“The provision would qualify newspapers and local radio and television stations that produce and disseminate local news and emergency information for PPP funding, even if they are owned by a larger corporation, so long as the individual radio or television station does not have more than 500 employees or the individual has newspaper has 1,000 or fewer employees. The provision would also qualify public radio stations operated by major universities for PPP, which would benefit public radio stations such as those at the University of Washington and Washington State University.”
Cantwell also announced raising $1 billion in funding for much-needed tribal broadband and $250 million for telehealth programs.
“Indian Country needs a lot of connectivity,” Cantwell said. “So bringing more broadband to these communities will be very helpful. The COVID package also includes money… for telemedicine. Telemedicine is a critical way during the COVID crisis to ensure communities have the ability to get expert advice into our homes, into our communities, to connect people with information. Therefore, this telemedicine grant is a very important program in Washington State.”
Senator Murray’s office announced that she was able to secure funding for priorities such as a new one Drinking water and sanitation emergency relief program for low-income households. The program will award grants to state, local and tribal governments to distribute to drinking water and sanitation companies, Murray’s staff said, and received $638 million in funding.
Words were also added to Murray to slow down the proposed closure and sale of the National Archives campus in Seattle. According to Murray’s staff, “the tax megabill includes language for NARA and GSA to consider measures to prevent the immediate closure of the Sand Point facility, as well as identify long-term options to ensure continued access to its content.”
The bill also includes Murray’s Water Development Resources Act (WRDA) 2020. This “includes provisions that Senator Murray has long campaigned for to reform the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) and earmark money from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) for the Distribute maintenance more equitably to projects in America’s ports.”
“For too long, the current system has forced Washington state’s ports to operate at a competitive disadvantage, stifling our state’s potential for economic growth and threatening thousands of high-paying jobs,” Senator Murray said.
“This bill takes important steps to, among other things, secure the long-term financial prospects of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, preserve jobs in Washington State, and fix this broken system. As a champion of our ports, I am glad we are finally able to make these changes and I look forward to the law being signed.”
WRDA is a major asset to Washington State’s maritime sector and, as Senator Murray says, will help protect some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs we have left.
As we learn more about what is in this bill, we will post further reflection and analysis on it here in the Cascadia Advocate. You can also expect a summary of the bill in the next installment of our Last Week in Congress series.