How Congress Can Give Americans $2K Relief Checks and Cut Omnibus Pork to Pay for It

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 9: A holiday tree is shown lit in front of the U.S. Capitol building December 9, 2004 in Washington, DC. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) hosted the official tree lighting ceremony today. The 79-year-old red spruce weighs approximately 92 hundred pounds and is about 67 feet …
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President Donald Trump has urged Congress to increase the amount of the direct relief payments to Americans to $2,000 by cutting out the unrelated pork in the coronavirus rescue package and government spending bill. Breitbart News has calculated how much that increase would cost and what could be cut from the 5,593-page omnibus bill to offset it.

The House and Senate passed the combined $900 billion coronavirus relief package and $1.4 trillion government spending bill on Monday night, but the massive 5,593-page omnibus bill immediately drew criticism for sending billions of dollars of aid to foreign countries while only allotting $600 relief checks for Americans.

Populists on the right and left, led by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), argued that sending direct coronavirus relief checks to Americans provides the easiest and most equitable way to get funding to where it can have the most impact in helping people get through the pandemic.

Trump’s call to increase direct payments to $2,000 has bridged the partisan divide in Washington, receiving agreement from Hawley and Sanders, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). However, some Republicans have blocked the effort to amend the bill, worrying about the increase in spending for Americans despite the billions of dollars of foreign aid included in the bill.

There is no question that the United States government can afford to pay Americans more. The U.S. has an unerring history of paying its debts, and as a result, it can borrow from the public at extremely low rates. Especially in times of economic stress, investors in the U.S. and around the globe seek out U.S. Treasuries as a safe haven for their cash, which means that the pandemic’s surge around the globe has made it easier for the government to raise funds by selling bonds to willing buyers. The world wants to fund our government, which is why the yield on the 10-year Treasury is less than one percent.

Even though we could easily fund the higher payments by selling Treasuries, there will be some who worry that the government is spending too much. Fortunately, there is another source of funds available. Namely, there are hundreds of billions of dollars of spending in the bill Trump is threatening to reject that would go to unnecessary projects or programs that can easily wait until after the current crisis has passed.

So how much would it cost? The last round of $1,200 payments to adults and $400 to children cost approximately $218 billion. Raising the payments to adults to $2,000 and keeping all other things equal would increase the cost to around $349 billion. The lower amount in the current bill will cost around $166 billion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. So that leaves a funding hole of around $183 billion.

To offset this $183 billion increase, we have identified the following potential cuts from the omnibus bill. In multiple sources of funding, as noted below, lawmakers allotted money well over what Trump had requested. These funds are labeled as “excess funding.”

  • $8 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism
  • $1.7 billion for USAID operations abroad
  • $26.5 billion for “Bilateral Economic Assistance” abroad
  • $3.3 billion for “Global Health Programs”
  • $4.4 billion for “International Disaster Assistance”
  • $3.4 billion for “Refugee Assistance”
  • $2.4 billion for “democracy programs”
  • $1.7 billion for Jordan
  • $1.9 billion for “international food aid”
  • $35 billion in new clean energy initiatives to fight climate change
  • $9 billion for “international security assistance”
  • $5.9 billion for the “President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)”
  • $950 million for “basic education” programs in foreign countries
  • $740.3 million for “educational and cultural exchange” programs in foreign countries
  • $1.5 billion for “Contributions to International Organizations”
  • $224 million tax breaks for motor sports venues
  • $16 billion tax credit for businesses that hire individuals facing “significant barriers to employment”
  • $1 billion tax credit for “special expensing rules for entertainment productions”
  • $13 billion tax breaks for clean energy initiatives
  • $9 billion in tax credits for beer, wine, and distilled spirits producers
  • $2 billion “to enable better scientific information about the Earth and its changing climate”
  • $16.2 billion in excess funding for transportation, housing, and urban development
  • $19.2 billion in excess funding for the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and Health and Human Services
  • $6.9 billion in excess funding for energy and water development
  • $12.3 billion in excess funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency

TOTAL CUTS: $203,814,000,000

These are, of course, merely suggestions. Congress is free to ignore them or to suggest other cuts. In making these determinations, the nation’s leaders might consider the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities.” When the economy was hit by the pandemic and the government enforced lockdowns, it became impossible for many Americans to “do for themselves” what they “need to have done” to support themselves.

Giving relief checks directly to American citizens allows them to meet their needs as they see fit. Conservative Republicans have argued for years that individuals know better than government bureaucrats how to spend their money. Replacing direct payments with targeted funding for one group or corporation simply allows the political class to pick winners and losers; and more important, it allows the Swamp to direct benefits to their donors and pet causes. Putting Americans first means giving them the check, not a faceless bureaucrat or a favored corporation.

“We bailed out the banks to such a tune that now they’ve got money left over. Now we’re going to take money back because we spent so much on Wall Street and the banks in the first part of this year,” Hawley said in a Senate speech in response to his colleagues who use concerns about the deficit to deny Americans direct relief.

“Now, Wall Street is doing great. Big tech? They’re doing great. The big multinational corporations? Fantastic,” Hawley continued. “Working people? Working people are living in their cars. Working people can’t go to the doctor. Working people can’t pay their rent. Working people can’t feed their children.”

Indeed, the picture Hawley paints is made manifest in the economic data. Weekly jobless claims continue to climb, rising to 885,000 last week. The number of Americans who are jobless or underemployed, but all of whom want full-time employment with good benefits and competitive wages, remains at 24.5 million.

In November, the U.S. poverty rate rose to 11.7 percent, a jump of 2.4 percent since June, marking the highest single year increase since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago. Nearly 12 million Americans owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities, the Washington Post reports. The nation’s homeless population could increase by 40 to 45 percent this year, according to a Columbia University study. Homeless shelters across the country are struggling to accommodate a surge in people needing assistance.

Another study found that an estimated 5.4 million Americans lost their employer health insurance between February and May of this year due to the massive job loss from the pandemic. The number of people who lost their insurance in that three-month span is greater than the loss of coverage in any single year. Meanwhile, the cost of the average monthly health insurance premium for a family of four is $1,437.

The question remains: Will Congress step up to help Americans?

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