Ahead of the Senate debate on the stimulus bill, Republican Senate leadership criticized the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package during a news conference Tuesday. Instead of focusing on the bill’s economic provisions designed to revive the US economy, Republicans have attacked it for including funds for non-health care related spending and failing to push schools to reopen for in-person learning.
Here’s a look at some of those claims and the facts around them:
Nothing for schools
School reopening has been seen by many as one of the benchmarks of the country’s pandemic recovery. As such, funding for schools was expected to be included as part of the coronavirus relief package.
However, during Tuesday’s press conference, Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, argued that “nothing in the bill we’re talking about is designed to get kids back in school.”
Facts First: This is false. The bill includes nearly $130 billion for K-12 schools. The Congressional Budget Office expects only 5% of it will be spent in 2021, given that funds remain from previous aid packages, but that’s still several billion being spent this year from the bill, which isn’t “nothing.”
The funding in the bill for K-12 schools is aimed at helping schools “take the steps recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure students and educators can return to the classroom safely,” according to a fact sheet from the House Committee on Education and Labor. The amount of aid provided for K-12 schools in the Democrats’ bill is more than six times the amount of funding a compromise plan offered by a small group of Republican senators included to help students return to school.
The bulk of the funds can be used to update schools’ ventilation systems, reduce class sizes to help implement social distancing, buy personal protective equipment and hire support staff — all of which, experts say, would ultimately help schools reopen and allow students to return to school.
Only 9% for health care
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, claimed Tuesday that “(a)bout 9% of the money” in the coronavirus relief bill “is in the health care space.”
“Less than 1% of it deals with vaccinations,” he added.
Facts First: McConnell is correct that less than 1% of the funding detailed in the bill deals with vaccinations. And while health care spending around the coronavirus is included in the bill, some of the largest parts are focused on the pandemic’s economic impact, through items like direct payments and funds for unemployment benefits.
The bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that around $137 billion, or approximately 7% of the funding detailed in the bill, is directly tied to the pandemic. That funding includes $51 billion for testing and contact tracing, about $17 billion for “vaccine-related activities and programs” and $10 billion for medical supplies through the Defense Production Act.
The amount of health care funding in the bill could be closer to 10%, depending on what McConnell defines as within “the health care space.” For instance, the bill includes an additional $70 billion in health care related funding through the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid.
Other funds in the bill go toward economic and educational relief from the pandemic.
“Obviously not every dollar is going to literally flow to Pfizer, Moderna, or J&J,” Stan Veuger, a resident scholar on economic policy at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute told CNN. “There is money in there that gives kids that normally get free school lunches nutritional assistance because obviously they’re not physically going to school. It’s hard to argue that has nothing to do with the Covid crisis.”
The biggest ticket items in the bill are the $422 billion for individual stimulus checks, $350 billion for federal employees and state and local governments and $246 billion for unemployment benefits. Though these funds are not directed at the health care space specifically, they are necessary, Democrats argue, to address the impact of the health care crisis the US currently faces with Covid-19.
Senate Republicans have also attacked President Joe Biden’s stimulus plan for funding a Democratic “wish list” of initiatives. Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, specifically criticized funds in the original package for the California Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line.
Barrasso said the stimulus package was “the way Nancy Pelosi gets $140 million for her tunnel of love to Silicon Valley.”
Facts First: The initial House bill did allocate funds for the BART extension, which is outside of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s congressional district. After the Republican press conference on Tuesday, however, the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the BART funding could not be included in the bill because it was part of a pilot project, CNN reported.
Pelosi’s office confirmed Tuesday night that funding for a bridge in upstate New York — which was also criticized by Republicans — will be pulled from the stimulus package as well.
Pelosi’s office said that public works initiatives would have aided transportation systems that have financially struggled through the pandemic due to decreases in fee revenue.
Despite the removal of these two projects, “(t)here is still a little under $30 billion in the bill for transit agencies. There’s money for airports and Amtrak. All of that is still in there,” AEI’s Veuger told CNN.