Progressive U.S. lawmakers and advocacy groups on Wednesday expressed frustration with Democratic leadership for removing $15.6 billion in Covid-19 relief from an omnibus spending bill before an anticipated vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Why is it that... when it comes to investing in our communities, the only way Congress can make a deal is by taking that same lifesaving American Rescue Plan money away from our communities?"
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) confirmed the move in a "Dear Colleague" letter after some Democrats were outraged that the package would claw back funding states got from last year's American Rescue Plan to offset the new Covid-19 spending.
"Democrats delivered on the American Rescue Plan, which included lifesaving, tangible investments in our children, families, and communities," said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) in a statement. "Why is it that we can create new money for defense spending, but when it comes to investing in our communities, the only way Congress can make a deal is by taking that same lifesaving American Rescue Plan money away from our communities?"
"We cannot turn our backs on the progress this money is intended to fund," she continued. "In Missouri, this funding was already appropriated to help fund childcare, healthcare, housing, and our schools. To turn around and now say we're taking hundreds of millions of dollars back, in the name of bipartisanship, is just unbelievable. I vehemently oppose efforts to snatch back the lifesaving resources we need to fully and equitably recover from this pandemic."
The offset provision--which was revealed in the 2,741-page, $1.5 trillion package early Wednesday--would have impacted over half of U.S. states, CNN reported .
"New York and California got their dollars," Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) told CNN , noting that her state could lose about $600 million. "It's not fair that 30 states not get their dollars."
Some critics highlighted that while cutting out Covid-19 funding, the package still contains $782 billion for the Pentagon, a $42 billion increase over the previous fiscal year.
\u201cHoly hell.\n\nCovid relief funding was just STRIPPED from the package to fund the government.\n\nIt would have helped vaccinate the world and protect us from new potential variants. \n\nYet somehow, we can afford to throw $782 BILLION to the Pentagon.\n\nIt doesn't have to be this way.\u201d— Public Citizen (@Public Citizen) 1646857101
The National Priorities Project (NPP) at the Institute for Policy Studies said in a statement that "the budget deal announced today repeats a longtime pattern by putting more resources into the military and war than into K-12 education, affordable housing, public health, scientific and medical research, early childhood education and care, and homelessness combined."
"This continued special treatment for the Pentagon recklessly squanders precious resources that could be used to strengthen our families and communities," NPP asserted. "Even as war rages in Ukraine, a higher military budget can only risk a larger war; it can't promote real solutions and alleviation of suffering through diplomacy and humanitarian aid."
"The country faces compounding crises at home," NPP pointed out. "Families are fearful for their economic security. The pandemic has not yet ended. Schools and hospitals face ongoing staffing shortages. The opioid epidemic is raging. And our dependence on oil continues to fuel the climate crisis, while subjecting families to wild price swings and supporting corrupt authoritarian states. Increasing military spending does nothing to address these problems."
William D. Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, declared in a statement that the package's level of Pentagon spending "is far in excess of what is needed to provide a robust defense for America."
As noted in a new issue brief from the Quincy Institute, it is far higher than spending levels reached during the Korean or Vietnam Wars or at the height of the Cold War. And much of this money is wasted on dysfunctional weapons systems, outright waste, and an overly ambitious "cover-the-globe" military strategy that fails to set priorities about the greatest security risks facing the United States and its allies.
Given how much excess spending is already in the budget, there is no need to increase Pentagon outlays in response to developments in Ukraine. The current budget can accommodate security assistance to Ukraine and the movement of some personnel to NATO's eastern flank without further increases.
"Spending at the levels about to be enacted for fiscal year 2022 ignores the need to invest in addressing other challenges to our lives and livelihoods, including pandemics, climate change, and racial and economic injustice," he added. "We need to rebalance our security spending to reflect new realities, not replicate the priorities of the Cold War."
\u201cBREAKING: House Dems abandon COVID spending in the omnibus spending package. \n\nWTF. COVID isn't 'over' just because cases are low. 'Living with' Covid requires tests, Rx meds, vaccines. \n\nHow many times do we need to do this before we learn our lesson? \nhttps://t.co/092j7rE2Uq\u201d— Dr. Abdul El-Sayed (@Dr. Abdul El-Sayed) 1646858916
Pelosi, in her letter, blamed the GOP for the Covid-19 cuts, writing that "Republicans resisted this deeply needed funding, demanding that every cent requested by the administration be offset, including through state and local funds scheduled to be released this spring."
"It is heartbreaking to remove the Covid funding, and we must continue to fight for urgently needed Covid assistance, but unfortunately that will not be included in this bill," the speaker said, noting the urgent need to pass the spending package, which must be approved by both chambers of Congress by Friday to avoid a government shutdown.
Following her letter, Pelosi signaled during her weekly news conference that the pandemic relief proposal--which includes $5 billion to help the U.S. Agency for International Development boost vaccinations abroad and over $10 billion for other health efforts--could hit the House floor as a standalone bill as early as Wednesday.
"We have a bill that's going to be on the floor, hopefully today, just depends. We have a bill that I mentioned, that will be on the floor today," she said, according to The Hill . "And it will be--really contain what the administration says that we need. It's a separate funding package to continue the battle against coronavirus largely focusing on the new therapies that are there."
However, given GOP demands about offsetting, it is unclear whether a pandemic relief package will make it through the evenly split Senate--or even make it to a final vote, due to the filibuster.