Congress passed — and President Trump signed into law — the $2.2 trillion “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
The purpose of the law, as widely reported, was principally to provide immediate financial support to individuals and families struggling to pay bills for food and shelter; and to support the millions of small businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
OK, I get it; easy to understand the intent. Will someone then explain to me why these line items were included in the law (“M” is million and “B” is billion):
$100M to NASA, $20B to the U.S. Postal Service, $300M to the Endowment for the Arts, $300M for the Endowment for the Humanities, $15M for Veterans Employment Training, $435M for mental health support, $30B for the Department of Education stabilization fund, $200M to Safe Schools Emergency Response to Violence Program, $300M to Public Broadcasting, $500M to Museums and Libraries, $720M to Social Security Administration, $25M for cleaning supplies for the Capitol Building, $7.5M to the Smithsonian for additional salaries.
Then there’s $25M for additional salary for the House of Representatives, $3B upgrade to the IT department at the VA, $315M for State Department Diplomatic Programs, $95M for the Agency of International Development, $300M for International Disaster Assistance, $300M for Migrant and Refugee Assistance, $90M for the Peace Corp, $13M to Howard University, $9M Miscellaneous Senate Expenses, $25M to the FAA for administrative costs, $492M to National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak), $526M Grants to Amtrak to remain available if needed through 2021, $25B for Transit Infrastructure, $3M Maritime Administration, $5M Salaries and Expensive Office of the Inspector General.
There’s more: $2.5M Public and Indian Housing, $5M Community Planning and Development, $100M for Community Block Grants for Native Americans, $250M for Housing Block Grants for Tribes, $130M for AIDS Housing, $15B for the Community Development Fund, $7M to enforce the Fair Housing Act, $1B for more Obamaphones, $10M for Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker programs, $100M for ‘‘Job Corps’”, $15M for “Program Administration,” $6M to the Wage and Hour Division, $30M, to OSHA, $10M for Susan Harwood training grants, $75M for “Student Aid Administration,” $9.5B, for “Higher Education.”
That is a partial list and it is well over $100 billion.
Why does this happen?Several reasons:
n Many politicians are beholden to big donors and are influenced to do them a “favor.”
n Economic crises are good for the lobbying industry; in 2008 and 2009, lobbying business grew 22 percent. Lobbyists seek new clients and then represent them to politicians who are pressured into supporting additional, albeit unrelated, funding.
n “Earmarking” is a long-standing, despicable activity in Congress participated in by Democrats and Republicans alike. That is, the process whereby separate bills are attached to a major piece of legislation that is in the “must-pass” category; it will pass and everyone knows it will. During the work-up, politicians take the opportunity to earmark separate, and usually completely unrelated issues, to the principal bill. Normally these legislative actions, if presented as stand-alone bills, would not likely stand the scrutiny of a committee hearing of a floor vote.
As the idea of a “trillion-dollar stimulus package” began to float around Washington in March, Representative James Clyburn, the House of Representatives Democrat Whip, described to his Democratic colleagues the “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” A not so subtle order to pile on the pork.
After the bill was signed into law, Senator Cory Booker was asked about the billions of dollars of completely non-COVID-19 related expenditures. He justified the earmarks saying, “It is often during crisis that you see Americans expand their moral imagination.” Well, that certainly clears things up for us, doesn’t it?
A final reason the extensive list of expenditures above exists today in law is that, generally speaking, politicians have the luxury of taking positions because they have no responsibility for the outcome.
If money is the root of all evil, then it follows that money in politics is the root of most of our problems.
As if this story is not disgusting enough, within days of passage of the $2.2 trillion relief bill, Speaker Pelosi began lobbying for an additional package saying, “Let’s do the same bill we just did, make some changes to make it current and correct some of the things that we’d like to see.” “…. things that we’d like to see” is political speak for “more pork.” Hang on to your wallet, folks.
Lt. Gen. Marvin L. Covault, U.S. Army (ret.) is the author of “Vision to Execution,” a book for leaders.