Betsy McCaughey, On Tuesday, President Donald Trump called off negotiations over a stimulus bill until after Election Day. Blame House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s outlandish demands for the delay.
Pelosi has been urging Republicans to pass her $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill to “crush the virus so that we can open the economy and open our schools safely.” The truth is her bill would do almost nothing to achieve those goals.
Worse, though Pelosi isn’t telling you, the bill rewrites election law for 2020, barring voter ID requirements, forcing states to count absentee ballots that arrive as late as 10 days after Election Day, and imposing same-day voter registration everywhere, though, currently, only 21 states allow it. These controversial changes don’t belong in a stimulus bill Americans are desperate for.
There’s almost no disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over sending every American adult a $1,200 check. But that’s a small part of the total bill. Hundreds of billions of dollars are frittered away closing state, city and school district budget gaps, `with nothing long-term to show for it. We won’t be any more prepared for the next pandemic. And there will be a next one. Viral threats are occurring with increasing frequency.
Pelosi’s bill promises school districts $225 billion, but only $5 billion — a miniscule 2% — would go to making schools safer by improving air quality or installing sinks and other hygiene upgrades.
The rest is a teachers union protection plan. School districts that economize and reduce per-pupil spending or change labor contracts are automatically ineligible for stimulus funding. That’s like telling Americans they can’t receive a stimulus check if they trim household expenses.
The bill allocates $417 billion to state and local governments, with no strings. This is a lost opportunity to rescue cities that are turning into ghost towns because employees fear the virus and are working remotely.
When office buildings, convention centers, railroad terminals and other workplaces are empty, the businesses around them fail. Retailers, shoe shines, food trucks and restaurants have no customers. In Manhattan, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, only about 10% of office workers are back on site, worse than anywhere else in the nation.
To solve that problem, a sizable portion of stimulus money should go to environmental improvements such as air-cleaning systems; antimicrobial coatings on desks, keyboards and subway poles; and other anti-viral technologies that improve workplace and transit safety. Grants can fund improvements in public facilities, and tax incentives can encourage the private sector to do the same.
Instead, in Pelosi’s bill, the $600 billion plus allocated to cities, states and school districts — a staggering amount equivalent to the nation’s entire defense budget — will be consumed plugging budget holes for spendaholic politicians. The money will be gone at the end of the year.
The bill allocates $120 billion in grants for restaurants. New York City needs this help because half its restaurants are on the brink of closing in the next six months, taking 160,000 jobs with them. Unfortunately, the funding is saddled with unfair, and possibly unconstitutional, preferences for minority- and women-owned businesses. Right now, everyone needs help.
The House bill spends some money wisely — $200 million for a vaccine awareness campaign, $20 million to upgrade the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s disease early alert system, and $500 million for a nursing strike force to respond fast when a nursing home is hit with COVID-19. But these important items are getting millions of dollars, while the politically cynical provisions get billions. For example, $5 billion for community development block grants that the bill labels “flexible resources” — which translates to walking-around money for local pols.
Finally, Pelosi needs to play it straight. Using the pandemic to slip in controversial voting changes for 2020 doesn’t pass the smell test.
With our cities dying, employees afraid to return to their offices, and millions of other Americans out of work, stimulus money shouldn’t be thrown around recklessly. A big chunk of this money should go toward permanent improvements to virus-proof our workplaces and schools. Republicans should demand these changes before passing the bill.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York