By Brandon Martin
President Donald Trump declined to sign a $900 billion stimulus package approved by Congress, saying it did not go far enough to help Americans and small businesses.
He asked Congress to rewrite the bill to send $2,000 checks to Americans and provide more aid to small businesses, particularly restaurants which have suffered grievously during the pandemic, according to online reports.
Under the plan approved by Congress, each American would have received $600.
Before the measure passed, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Alexandria, called the compromise bill “a Christmas Miracle.”
While the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act in May to provide almost $3 trillion in new stimulus, Warner credited “bipartisanship” with finally coming to an agreement six months later on a bill that would provide a third of the original amount passed in the House.
Warner said the bill would provide $908 billion in stimulus relief to the country.
“I think that a group of senators, bipartisan, said to heck with the politics and to heck with the partisan posturing, and let’s try to provide emergency-targeted relief for those Americans most in need,” Warner said, adding that he thought it was “a sign that Congress may be getting its act together. Our job is to pass bills and pass legislation that will help Americans in need. Anyone with good conscience, could not look at 17 million folks having COVID and 300,000 dead, literally the economy tanking right in front of our eyes and not say that we need to provide relief.”
After Congress approved the plan, Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said “As a supporter of more relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic, I consistently urged congressional leadership to keep any relief package separate from any omnibus appropriations bill to fund the Federal Government. Omnibuses tend to be bloated, filled with unrelated provisions, and cobbled together in backrooms with little time for Members of Congress to read them, much less understand their provisions. They are a terrible way to exercise Congress’ power of the purse.”
He added the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2021 “is the longest bill I’ve been asked to vote on in Congress. It was split into two parts running nearly 5,600 pages. The first totaled roughly 500 pages and included funding for the military and border security, including the border wall. I read this part and found its spending to be largely reasonable, so I voted for it,” he said.
“The second part containing the remaining 5,000 pages, while reportedly including some provisions I support, also reportedly featured far too many items that have no place in a spending bill. Members of Congress had only a few hours to read and analyze this overstuffed monstrosity. As I have pledged to the constituents of the Ninth District, I will not vote for a bill I have not read in its entirety. I voted no.”
According to Warner, two of the biggest debates were over the inclusion of another round of $1,200 checks to all Americans and whether to include liability insurance for companies.
In a recent poll conducted by Data for Progress, approximately 75 percent of respondents said that they wanted a second round of stimulus checks as a priority in the next package, but Warner disagreed with their inclusion in favor of more unemployment insurance, a position only half of respondents supported.
Under the measure approved by Congress, married couples with an annual income of less than $150,000 would receive $1,200, with an additional $600 for each child under 18. Single Americans will receive $600, plus the additional $600 for each child under 18. Those payments could start arriving as early as next week.
Warner said he viewed inclusion of individual stimulus checks as a political bargaining chip for Republicans.
“I think it is unfortunate that the trade-off of trying to allow Mr. Trump to send out one more” $600 check will be “taking away unemployment benefits to people who may have been out of work for months. I don’t think that is right,” Warner said. “I don’t think that is appropriate, but if it is part of this deal, I will go along because we’ve got to act, and I think this playbook has run out.”
During a Dec. 13 interview, Trump also supported the idea of individual checks.
“Right now, I want to see checks going for more money than they’re talking about going to people,” Trump said.
“I see some odd-couple combinations of the far-left and the far-right, who have never had any history of making any kind of deal,” Warner said. “They are saying we should be spending unlimited amounts or sending $1,200 checks out to every individual regardless of their income. I think that is a little bit disconnected from reality, and as we’ve seen, all of these decisions require trade-offs.”
Still, Warner said the package has some positives for Americans.
The bill approved by Congress included 16 weeks of additional unemployment, with a $300 a week bonus from the federal government. Warner said it also proposed $10 billion for broadband, $300 for small businesses, $25 billion for rental assistance and $160 billion for state and local government assistance.
State and local aid was tied to providing liability insurance for businesses, he said.
“At the end of the day, we couldn’t finally bridge that gap,” he said. “I do think there ought to be appropriate protections for small businesses, schools, and hospitals that did the right thing when they tried to practice appropriate procedures early on in COVID,” he said. “I don’t think we ought to give every business a kind of ‘get out of jail free’ card to say that we can act irresponsibly and not have to be liable for their actions.”
But he said state and local aid could be found in more indirect portions of the bill.
“There are other areas in the legislation that will help state and local governments, like $82 billion for education,” Warner said. “In many cases, that is a proxy of state and local government funding.”
Distribution of vaccines, broadband assistance and food distributions will be other avenues of providing funds to state governments.
“The bare minimum that we need to do is make sure that CARES money can be spent past the end of the year,” Warner added. “Those funds would disappear if we had not provided that extension.”
Another feature of the previous CARES Act were the funds given to businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program has received criticism for prioritizing larger corporations over small businesses.
According to figures on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), about 600 large companies received the maximum amount allowed under the program of $10 million.
More than half of the $522 billion went to big businesses, while 28 percent of the money was distributed in amounts less than $150,000.
“I wish that in the first round, a business would have to show revenue loss. There were entities that took some of this money that didn’t candidly need it. We’ve tightened up the requirements,” Warner said. “Small businesses now have to be 300 employees or less rather than 500 employees or less. It’s targeted to smaller businesses. They have to show at least a 30 percent revenue loss in one quarter compared to similar quarters in 2019. There are even more additional funds set aside for those very small businesses that are under 10 employees.”
Warner said he is optimistic for a continued partnership between President-elect Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“They had a prior relationship. I hope it remains strong,” he said. “I think it’ll be in the best interest of our country. There’s a whole lot of us in both political parties that are tired of inaction when we see need across our country. It’s not perfect, but it shows a return, I think, to the sensible center. I think it is a return to people who want to put the country ahead of the party, and I think it is a great holiday gift.”
The number of bills passed the last time McConnell and Biden were both in office was significantly lower than previous administrations.
Between 2008 and 2016, a total of 1,585 bills were passed into law, according to statistics on congressional productivity provided by The Brookings Institute. That is almost 1,000 less than President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton’s administrations, and 2,000 fewer bills than under President Ronald Reagan.
Not only did productivity decrease over the Biden-McConnell era, Warner’s own party lost seats in the House and Senate.
When President Barack Obama and Biden won the presidency, McConnell had been serving as the minority leader in the Senate for two years. Obama had a 57-seat majority in the Senate and a 257-seat majority in the House. By 2016, Republicans had gained control over both chambers, with Democrats losing 11 and 63 seats, respectively.