February 18, 2021

Toomey: Democrats Using COVID Spending Bill to Push Policy Wish List

Washington, D.C. – In his opening statement at today’s U.S. Senate Banking Committee hearing on COVID and the economy, Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) highlighted how the Biden administration had packed numerous left-wing policy wish list items, completely unrelated to COVID-19, into their $1.9 trillion spending bill.


You can watch the video of his statement here


Ranking Member Toomey’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery:


“Less than a month ago, President Biden made a call for unity, and he promised a COVID strategy ‘based on truth, not politics….based on science, not denial.’


“And it’s what makes it so disappointing that our Democratic colleagues and the White House are pushing a $1.9 trillion spending bill. They’re using a process that is designed to not find common ground and designed to be purely partisan. It is not informed by any objective measure of needs. The only organizing principle seems to be to spend a lot of money and willfully ignore the impacts of these policies.


“COVID has been an extraordinary crisis, and Congress responded in an extraordinary way. When the government shut down the economy because of COVID last March and April, it produced a crisis that Congress responded to with five overwhelmingly bipartisan bills. Almost $4 trillion in relief. One of these bills was signed into law less than two months ago. And now the economy has been in recovery mode.


“In April of 2020, the unemployment rate was 14.8 percent. In January of this year, it’s down to 6.3 percent. And 18 states have unemployment rates below 5 percent. GDP growth in the last two quarters has been extraordinary, and the consensus for this year is to have extremely strong economic growth. There certainly is serious suffering occurring in those industries that have been hard-hit: hospitality, entertainment, travel, and leisure.


“But the Democrat bill is wasteful, poorly targeted, and largely unrelated to COVID. Just consider some of the items. So-called universal stimulus checks. The vast majority of 160 million Americans that have received checks never lost any income. If President Biden’s plan follows eligibility criteria of first two rounds of checks, then some families with six-figure incomes & no income loss will receive $10,000 or more in checks.


“Extra unemployment insurance benefits will result in about half of all recipients being paid more not to work than they get paid to work.


“A minimum wage increase to $15 per hour. The CBO projects it will cost 1.3 million to 3.7 million jobs.


“One of our witnesses today, Gianni Cracchiolo, has felt first-hand the harmful effects of a $15 minimum wage and extra unemployment benefits. He’s small businessman from New York who runs a family-owned Italian bakery. I look forward to hearing his testimony.


“State and local government aid is another bad policy idea, driven by Democrat desires to bail out cities and blue states that are fiscally irresponsible and imposed excessive COVID restrictions. On the whole, state and local governments aren’t in fiscal crisis. Preliminary 2020 state and local tax collections were up $21 billion compared to 2019. The federal government has already sent $572 billion to state and local governments for health care, education, public transit, and more in response to COVID. And that’s on top of the $700 billion the federal government sends each year already.


“Democrats are also seeking $30 billion for transit agencies, a majority of which are in big cities. Congress has already provided $39 billion for transit in response to COVID. $14 billion was appropriated less than two months ago. The financial woes of many big-city transit agencies pre-date COVID and are tied to high labor and pension costs. For example, in 2019, labor costs accounted for 74 percent of New York MTA's operating costs. In 2021, the average MTA employee is expected to make over $123,000 per year in wages and healthcare benefits. I do not think the federal government should continue to subsidize transit agencies that won’t control their runaway labor and pension costs.


“Democrats are seeking $40 billion for housing assistance. Congress has already provided $40 billion for housing in response to COVID, including $25 billion for rental assistance less than two months ago. That’s on top of $800 billion the federal government has provided in stimulus checks and unemployment benefits to cover expenses, like rent and mortgages.


“It’s disappointing President Biden’s promise of unity is already ringing hallow. All five relief bills enacted to date have been overwhelmingly bipartisan. The reason this one is not is because there’s no rational economic justification for what’s in it. This bill is not about COVID, not about economic recovery, and not about stimulus. It’s about enacting a long-standing Democratic policy wish list.


“Congress’s focus should be working to return the economy to its pre-pandemic record strength. For example, President Biden and Democrats should be working to get teachers unions to reopen schools. President Biden said that his COVID strategy would be “based on . . . science.”


“Well, the science is in. CDC research shows it’s safe to re-open schools. Reopening schools would help the economy, students, and families, especially those with lower-incomes. Closures have harmed student performance and well-being, and interfered with the ability of parents stay in the workforce.


“Our focus should be on actions that will help the economic recovery instead of using the pandemic and economic crisis of early last year to justify enacting partisan policy priorities.”