The Congress that stole Christmas, delivering a massive lump of coal to struggling Americans while lavishing billions on foreign aid

You know things are truly awful when Ted Cruz and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agree, and even Bernie Sanders is openly supporting Trump’s demand to do more for the American people, but there’s CNN to mess the coverage up

During the initial 15-days to slow the spread, what feels like a lifetime ago back in late March, Congress passed the CARES Act coronavirus relief legislation.  The act provided direct payments of $1,200 to most Americans, an increase in unemployment benefits that lasted through July, two months of small business payroll subsidies, and other funding to combat the virus.

Nine months to slow the spread later, and Congress has finally acted again, passing a $900 billion relief bill wrapped up in a far more massive omnibus spending bill to keep the government open.

To call the final product underwhelming given the scope of the ongoing pandemic’s economic challenges  is a massive overstatement.  The bill is so universally maligned that political polar opposites Ted Cruz and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez agree on the awfulness of the final provisions and the process that lead to its passage.

The firebrand Congresswoman from New York tweeted, “Congress is expected to vote on the second largest bill in US history *today* – $2.5 trillion – and as of about 1pm, members don’t even have the legislative text of it yet.”  The Senator from Texas replied, “AOC is right.  It’s absurd to have a $2.5 trillion spending bill negotiated in secret and then – hours later – demand an up-our-down vote on a bill nobody has had time to read.”

A rare moment of agreement between Cruz and AOC…

Alas, I think both have too much faith in their fellow members of Congress.  Given a full year, they probably still wouldn’t have read it, and, if they did, they probably still would have voted for it.  The sad truth is:  This is classic Congress in the modern era.  Thousands of pages of pork laden provisions, completely unrelated legislative priorities bundled in a potluck of terrible law, and then a mad rush to pass it under the threat of a government shutdown.

Throughout it all, Congress’s dereliction of duty and general dysfunction is covered up by a compliant mainstream media that reports on the negotiations according to the party leader’s talking points.

Thus, we end up with supposed relief legislation for Americans that instead spends billions on establishment causes.  A full billion for the Smithsonian.  $167,000,000 for National Arts and Humanities.  $154,000,000 for the National Art Gallery.  $26,400,000 for the Kennedy Center.  $14,000,000 for the Woodrow Wilson Center.

The omnibus portion of the bill also lavishes billions on foreign aid.  $1.3 billion for Egypt.  $700,000,000 for Sudan.  $500,000,000 for Israel.  $453,000,000 for Ukraine.  Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, and even Pakistan are on the list as well.  Pakistan in particular gets $25,000,000 for democracy and gender programs, whatever they may actually be.

This is all good though according to Jonathan Chait, writing for the New York Intelligencer to bemoan how these nasty populists are complaining about the sorry state of affairs.

“The populists further exploit the fact that the emergency economic relief was combined with an annual government budget whose imminent expiration helped prod Congress to finalize the deal. That’s why you’re seeing these comparisons between items like foreign aid and economic relief, which are then further distorted by misleading comparisons between aggregate spending for entire countries and per capita spending.”

Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to Mr. Chait that the distorting and misleading has been done by Congress itself.  They combined all of this into one bill, not us.

It shouldn’t be surprising, however, that Mr. Chait isn’t concerned.  He’s also thrilled that the bill contains another sleight of hand, this time a package of energy reforms that will result in major greenhouse-gas emissions.  Chait describes it as the “most significant climate change legislation ever,” practically crowing that these measures were “thrown into the bill with little or no public debate.”

Chait asks, “How big a deal are the climate provisions? The World Resources Institute has called the bill ‘one of the most significant pieces of climate legislation that Congress has passed in its history.’ Grant Carlisle, a senior policy adviser at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says, ‘This is perhaps the most significant climate legislation Congress has ever passed.’”

What are these provisions?  $35 billion for zero-emission energy technology, an extension of tax credits for wind and solar energy, and a brand new, never discussed scheme to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, what are described as a “small but extremely potent” greenhouse gas.

While Chait further describes these provisions as a “remarkable triumph,” I find it hard to attribute anything triumphant to Congress spending billions on brand new schemes without bothering to inform the American people, have anything resembling a substantive debate, or any coverage in the media about these non-coronavirus related provisions.

What do the American people get for actual relief from the pandemic the purported purpose of the bill?

Very little:  $600 direct payments, a measly 11 week extension in unemployment, and a continuation of the small business loan program.  The rest of the 5,593 page legislation, by far the longest bill ever, is devoted to other causes, call it America Last.

“This deal is not everything I want — not by a long shot,” explained Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts known as a member of the party’s old-school liberal wing. “The choice before us is simple. It’s about whether we help families or not. It’s about whether we help small businesses and restaurants or not. It’s about whether we boost (food stamp) benefits and strengthen anti-hunger programs or not. And whether we help those dealing with a job loss or not. To me, this is not a tough call.”

Yes, Jim, but what about all of the other stuff?

Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey says, “There are a lot of provisions I don’t like.  There are provisions that the Democrats don’t like. This is what we were able to get to, and my suggestion would be let’s pass this and get this signed, let’s get this into law, and we can have an ongoing discussion about whether there should be additional direct payments or not.”

This shameful charade of each party blaming the other for their shared failure would have continued unchecked, but President Trump ultimately weighed in with his usual bluntness.

Releasing a video on Twitter, he described the bill as the “disgrace” it most surely is.  “It’s called the Covid relief bill but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” the lameduck President explained.  “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it. It wasn’t their fault. It was China’s fault.  I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.”

The outgoing President’s opposition to the bill immediately caused chaos in Washington and among the media.  Politicians normally opposed to Trump from Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to AOC and Bernie Sanders, signaled their support for the $2,000 payments to Americans.  Republicans and the media were more tepid. Incoming President Joe Biden is apparently nowhere to be found, claiming they will pass another bill at some indefinite point in the future.

CNN, as usual, has their finger on the pulse of the moment, claiming Trump was “issuing a surprise and vague attack on carefully crafted stimulus legislation.”

Carefully crafted?  It’s times like these that make you wonder if the good people at CNN are reporting from an alternative reality.  They should probably take a moment to read their own coverage before opining on this masterwork.

The network received feedback from 1,700 of their readers, Americans who blasted the “stimulus bill as too little, too late.” Pedro Martinez, a father from Pennsylvania, explained, “We have been left to dry while Congress still collects a paycheck and our ‘government’ still taxes the American people.  It is our money that they use for all their business. Pay us back and HELP US!”

Sherry Tipton of Winchester, Kentucky, said “$600 dollars is a slap in the face.  Every other industrialized nation was able to keep their citizens afloat during this crisis, but we have woefully cared more about tax cuts for the rich than caring for the poor and working class. It is shameful, but emblematic of the ‘leadership’ in this country.”

Translation:  Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows this bill and the process are an insult to the American people and a steaming pile of legislative refuse, literally a lump of coal. Well, everyone except CNN and Jonathan Chait apparently.

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