Covid Relief, Gridlock, and ‘Better Late Than Never’

U.S. Capitol, Congress, Legislation

“Congress did their job this week…”

President-elect Joe Biden

Technically, he’s right. 

The members of the House and Senate negotiated their way to a $900 billion bill that will provide Covid-related relief to the American people. 

But as we consider the work Congress did this week, it’s worth considering whether we, the people, are satisfied with the product it delivered. 

The timing of the Covid relief package

  • The Coronavirus Response And Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, introduced on May 12, 2020, passed both houses and was sent to the president for signing 223 days after it was introduced. That translates to about 31 weeks, or 7 months
  • The previous package, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, was signed into law on March 27, 2020, eight days after its introduction on March 19.  
  • Congress had to pass a two-day extension on December 18 to avoid a government shutdown and provide additional time to settle debate over the bill. 
  • Lawmakers earned at least $106,000 over the course of the 7-month period of gridlock. In its current form, the bill will pay Americans who meet certain criteria $600 each. 

The impossible reading assignment

  • The 5,593-page document was about twice as long as the previous bill that held the record for the longest piece of legislation (2,847 pages). 
  • The text of the bill was released about 2 p.m. EST on December 21, and the vote was held about 10 hours later, just before midnight. 
  • To read the full text within the allotted 10 hours, lawmakers would have to read more than 9 pages per minute.

The outcome

  • The bill passed the House 359 to 53, and it passed the Senate 92 to 6. Many of the lawmakers who voted against the bill were protesting the wasteful spending, as well as the fact that no one had time to actually read the text. Among those who voted against it: Republican Senators Rick Scott (FL), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Rand Paul (KY), Ron Johnson (TX), Mike Lee (UT) and Ted Cruz (TX) as well as House Democrats Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Tulsi Gabbard (HI).
  • President Donald Trump has signaled his disapproval of the bill and has demanded that Congress remove the wasteful spending in exchange for more money that would go directly to Americans. 

“The agreement on this package can be summed up by the expression ‘better late than never.’ After a long and arduous year, after a year full of bad news, finally we have some good news to deliver to the American people.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

But is “better late than never” good enough? Are we satisfied with “good news” that took more than 7 months to deliver? Are we ok with the fact that the bill that is supposed to be focused on helping the American people also earmarks millions of dollars to lawmakers’ pet projects?

What we can do?

People frequently tell us that they have no idea how to begin the work of repairing this broken system, but awareness is a great start. Thanks for taking the time to read this post. 

Afterward:

  1. Look up your Senators here, and then send an email telling them your thoughts about this bill. It doesn’t have to be a long email. Short is better. Let them know that you’re keeping up and that you intend to stay involved in the legislative process.
  2. Fight the urge to believe that we can’t solve this. Read about the Problem Solvers Caucus, which is working to represent a broad bloc of Americans. If you support the ideas the caucus is promoting, email one of the members to let them know. Let your own senator know, as well. 

Our government is designed to work for us, and we have the power to take action when it doesn’t. If we allow the current moment to pass without taking action, we’ll eventually find ourselves facing another incredibly messy election cycle with four more years of gridlock in our rearview mirrors.

We must resolve not to let this moment pass.