Tis the season so Congress has passed what’s known as a “Christmas tree bill,” with lots of goodies attached, rather than sticking strictly to the original plan to provide aid to workers and small businesses struggling with the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The $900 billion legislation, the second-largest spending bill in congressional history, offers well over $100 billion in tax breaks to large industries and special-interest groups. These giveaways include big tax cuts for beer and liquor producers, NASCAR tracks and other motorsports venues, and manufacturers of electric motorcycles.
Lawmakers also snuck into the bill: a $6.3 billion write-off for business meals, known as the “three-martini lunch” expense; a simplification of federal financial aid forms; measures to address climate change; funding to build new museums honoring women and Latinos; and a provision to stop “surprise billing” from hospitals when patients unwittingly receive care from physicians out of their insurance networks.
President Trump on Tuesday called the legislation “a disgrace” and hinted he may veto it.
While families would receive one-time-only stimulus checks of $600 per person, and the unemployed stand to garner an extra $300 weekly in jobless benefits for 11 weeks, the legislation provides hundreds of special tax provisions that will mean millions of dollars for individual companies.
Or in the case of the horse racing industry, they received a federally sanctioned commission to assist horse tracks that have already benefited greatly from the first round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds that were disbursed to businesses in the spring.
The Small Business Administration has released data showing that just 1 percent of the PPP’s 5.2 million participants had received more than a quarter of the $523 billion handed out.
A Brookings Institution analysis of the new Covid relief measures found that a particularly lucrative change, known as a “double-dip” tax break, would help far more wealthy than mom-and-pop business owners.
The enormous bill consists of 5,539 pages. If those pages were laid horizontally, the paper trail would extend just short of a mile. Yet, House and Senate members on Monday had just several hours to read the bill. As a result, lots of late-night chaotic legislating took hold. The Senate vote took place shortly before midnight.
As the New York Times reported, the urgency for Covid aid allowed lawmakers to tack onto the bill a wide array of pet projects and policies:
The items jammed into the bill are varied and at times bewildering. The bill would make it a felony to offer illegal streaming services. One provision requires the CIA to report back to Congress on the activities of Eastern European oligarchs tied to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The federal government would be required to set up a program aimed at eradicating the murder hornet and to crack down on online sales of e-cigarettes to minors.
It authorizes 93 acres of federal lands to be used for the construction of the Teddy Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota and creates an independent commission to oversee horse racing, a priority of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.
Trump’s thinly veiled threat of a veto, unless the stimulus checks were boosted to $2,000 each, was viewed on Capitol Hill as a stunning plan by the president to sow chaos and to particularly wreak havoc for McConnell and several other Senate Republicans who have been demonized by Trump.
At the same time, congressional observers say it is far too late for a change to $2,000 payments and the House and Senate would have the votes to override the president.
Photo: ABC News screen shot