Senate Republicans finally unveiled some semblance of a plan for coronavirus relief legislation on Monday, 10 weeks after the House of Representatives approved a plan that has been gathering dust while the GOP enjoys a second bowl of crab bisque. The Republican plan appears to be going absolutely nowhere, however, and on Wednesday President Trump began advocating for a short-term fix on extended unemployment benefits and eviction protections.
There are some significant differences in the House-approved ‘HEROES Act‘ and what the Senate GOP calls the ‘Heals Act’ — particularly when it comes to extended unemployment benefits (the Senate wants to cut the amount by two-thirds). Senate Republicans rejected Trump’s idiotic insistence that a “payroll tax cut” be included in the bill, but there’s still plenty of other nonsense that made it through to the final draft that is thus far preventing badly-needed relief from reaching suffering Americans:
Billions of Dollars for Trump’s Border Wall
Since everybody else can get past the wall, why can’t Senate Republicans?
As The Washington Post reports:
The GOP Senate’s new $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill restores hundreds of millions of dollars in Pentagon spending that the Trump administration redirected to help pay for President Trump’s border wall.
Navy planes and ships and Air Force aircraft that the Trump administration canceled earlier this year so the money could go to pay for the wall have reappeared in the GOP bill that was introduced on Monday. The programs are part of $30 billion in defense spending in the GOP bill that Democrats are already objecting to. Republicans are defending the spending as important to protect jobs and help the Pentagon cope with impacts of coronavirus.
Senate Republicans will argue that there is no money in this bill dedicated to building a border wall, but what they’re doing here is basically treating Trump’s wall like a layaway program. If Congress is going to backfill funding for projects raided for the wall, then they might as well just allocate money directly to the wall in the first place. This is sort of like asking your mother and your father for $20 and then pretending that the source of the money is somehow different; regardless of how you receive the money, it’s coming out of the same bank account.
As you may recall, Congress balked — repeatedly — at President Trump’s demands to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, so Trump basically just stole (er, “re-directed”) billions of dollars from military programs that had already been approved; this move essentially de-funded dozens of shovel-ready projects, including an $8 million improvement slated for Peterson Air Force base in Colorado.
New Deductions for “Business Meals”
But where are the space travel deductions?
From The Hill newspaper:
Under a section of the package offered by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), taxpayers would be able to deduct 100 percent of the costs of business meals through the end of the year, up from 50 percent under current law, if the food and beverages are from restaurants.
Ahead of the measure’s release, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in an interview with Fox Business Network the package would include “increased business deductions for meals and entertainment.” However, Scott’s, provision focuses specifically on meals and does not apply to entertainment expenses…
… But the idea of increasing the business meals deduction has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers as well as tax-policy experts across the ideological spectrum.
Increasing available deductions for business meals and other entertainment expenses has been a priority for President Trump since celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck whispered it into his ear. But what’s the point of increasing deductions for activities that don’t really exist at the moment for very good COVID-related safety reasons? While they’re at it, maybe Senate Republicans could quadruple the deduction for meals enjoyed on the planet Saturn.
Billions for a New FBI Building
A new FBI building needs to be close to this hotel…for, uh, security reasons.
Here’s a sentence that has never been said in the history of ever: In order to ease the incredible financial strain on Americans related to a global pandemic, we should build a new FBI headquarters!
Several Republican senators were stunned in particular by the new FBI funds, which Democrats said were intended to boost profits for President Donald Trump’s hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, located across the street from the proposed FBI building. Though both parties agree that the FBI needs a new headquarters, several lawmakers had been pushing for the facility to be constructed in Virginia or Maryland. The White House on Monday said the building should remain near Justice Department headquarters downtown.
This has also been a longtime obsession for President Trump, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems unwilling to play along. It is odd, however, that Senate Republicans didn’t seem to know how the proposal even made it into their own bill.
Liability Protections for Employers
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell counts to 3
This is apparently a big deal for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, so it’s a big deal for you, too. As CNBC reports:
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he will not pass a coronavirus relief bill in the Senate which does not include liability shields.
“We’re not negotiating over liability protection,” he told CNBC’s Kayla Tausche as Congress looks to craft a pandemic rescue agreement. He noted, however, that the GOP is open to compromise on other issues…
…Democrats have generally opposed the legal shield because it could take away a recourse for workers who return to an unsafe workplace as the pandemic spreads around the country. McConnell contended “there’s no chance of the country getting back to normal without it.”
McConnell’s fears of a mass of coronavirus-related lawsuits are not based on any actual facts, as POLITICO explains:
Yet data suggests that coronavirus-related litigation isn’t very contagious.
Of the 3,727 coronavirus-related cases that have been filed since March, just 185, or less than 5 percent, fall into the personal injury category that McConnell describes — plaintiffs claiming fear of exposure, potential exposure or exposure to Covid-19, according to an analysis by the American Association for Justice of a litigation tracker run by law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth. Instead, the bulk of the legal actions deal with insurance claims and civil rights, including people challenging stay-at-home orders…
…That rate of filings is relatively low, labor law experts and advocates say, considering that more than 4 million cases of coronavirus have been reported in the U.S., and some 145,000 people have died.
We’ll leave you with the editorial board of The Los Angeles Times:
At the moment, Congress has two tasks more important than any others: Providing the resources and leadership needed to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, and helping the country climb out of the deep recession that the pandemic triggered. Sadly, the long-awaited coronavirus relief package that Senate Republicans released this week falls far short on both fronts [Pols emphasis]…
Some Republicans have balked at the idea of providing any further federal aid because of the record-setting deficit. Such fiscal responsibility would have been more welcome when the economy was growing and the GOP was cutting taxes and throwing money at the Pentagon. The human and economic problems caused by COVID-19 are enormous and ongoing, and they demand a commensurate response.
The Senate is still scheduled to take a month-long recess beginning on August 10.