Golden light spills over the U.S. Capital building emblazing the Arc Of Washington.
Golden light spills over the U.S. Capital building emblazing the Arc Of Washington.

It is the respon­si­bil­i­ty of Con­gress to “pay the Debts and pro­vide for the com­mon Defence and gen­er­al Wel­fare of the Unit­ed States”, yet, despite hav­ing known for months that the coun­try sore­ly need­ed both pan­dem­ic relief and a plan to keep the gov­ern­ment open, Amer­i­ca’s leg­isla­tive branch has only just got­ten around to approv­ing leg­is­la­tion to keep the U.S. from plung­ing off anoth­er fis­cal cliff.

With just a few days to go before 2020 ends and a new year begins, the House and Sen­ate have giv­en approval to a $2.3 tril­lion com­bined pan­dem­ic relief pack­age and omnibus appro­pri­a­tions bill.

The leg­is­la­tion runs about 5,600 pages and was final­ized a few hours ago, so it’s a safe assump­tion that pret­ty much nobody has read it in its entirety.

Regard­less, the deed has been done.

A deal has been struck, votes have been tak­en, and leg­is­la­tion has been trans­mit­ted to the exec­u­tive branch. If the fis­cal mega­bill agreed to in Con­gress is signed by Don­ald Trump as expect­ed, it’ll become law.

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west was unan­i­mous in sup­port of the bill, with all sev­en­teen U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon, and Ida­ho vot­ing aye and all six U.S. sen­a­tors also vot­ing aye.

Only two Democ­rats in the House opposed the bill: Tul­si Gab­bard and Rashi­da Tlaib. Fifty Repub­li­cans vot­ed against it along with one independent.

In the Sen­ate, there were only six nay votes, all from Repub­li­cans (Mar­sha Black­burn, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron John­son, Mike Lee, and Rick Scott).

Pan­dem­ic relief and appro­pri­a­tions for 2021 could have been adopt­ed much, much soon­er and in a far less rushed fash­ion if Mitch “The Grim Reaper” McConnell and his nar­row-mind­ed Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus had­n’t placed their own inter­ests and desire for pow­er before the needs of the country.

The bill “does­n’t go all the way, but it takes us down the path, a first step,” said House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi in floor remarks sup­port­ing the leg­is­la­tion.

“I have hope because of the [vac­cine] and I hope because of the elec­tion of Joe Biden as a Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,” Pelosi said. “A pres­i­dent who will fol­low sci­ence.  He will fol­low sci­ence and he will rec­og­nize that we have to meet the needs of all of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, wher­ev­er they live in our coun­try, espe­cial­ly address­ing Bar­bara Lee’s con­cerns about the com­mu­ni­ties of col­or that have been under­served in so much what have we have done.”

“I applaud the bipar­ti­san Con­gres­sion­al eco­nom­ic relief pack­age that will deliv­er crit­i­cal resources to fight COVID-19, includ­ing fund­ing for vac­cine dis­tri­b­u­tion, and much need­ed tem­po­rary relief for work­ers, fam­i­lies, and small busi­ness­es,” Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden com­ment­ed in a state­ment released yesterday.

“This bill pro­vides crit­i­cal tem­po­rary sup­port for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, sup­port to help keep fam­i­lies in their homes, and food on their table; and direct pay­ments to help Amer­i­cans make it through a dark win­ter,” the Pres­i­dent-elect said.

“It gives a life­line to small busi­ness­es strug­gling to stay afloat, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly found them­selves at the back of the line for relief.”

“And, it pro­vides an impor­tant down­pay­ment on the invest­ment we need in vac­cine pro­cure­ment and dis­tri­b­u­tion, help­ing deliv­er these incred­i­ble vac­cines around the coun­try and offer the Amer­i­can peo­ple pro­tec­tion and peace of mind that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.”

The ACLU gave the fis­cal mega­bill a mixed grade, not­ing:

Let’s start with the good news:

  • The fed­er­al evic­tion mora­to­ri­um was extended
  • Over $3 bil­lion was pro­vid­ed to help low-income peo­ple afford broad­band inter­net dur­ing the pandemic
  • Long-over­due cash pay­ments will final­ly be made to mixed-sta­tus families

And the bad — this legislation:

  • Pro­vides $1.375 bil­lion for Trump’s bor­der wall
  • Fails to address the COVID-19 cri­sis in jails and prisons
  • Pro­vides dis­mal rental assistance
  • Fails to ensure test­ing, treat­ment, and vac­cines for mil­lions of immigrants

There is much, much more that the leg­is­la­tion does and does­n’t do, of course. At almost 5,600 pages, there are zil­lions upon zil­lions of pro­vi­sions in this leg­is­la­tion. Some are vir­tu­ous while oth­ers are mali­cious. It’s going to be a while before even skilled, vet­er­an observers are able to inde­pen­dent­ly parse what’s in here.

How­ev­er, thanks to our con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tion, we do have some details on what a few of those vir­tu­ous pro­vi­sions are.

For exam­ple, Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell announced she was able to secure pan­dem­ic relief for strug­gling news­pa­pers and local media outlets.

“The bill pro­vides $284.5 bil­lion for the entire Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram, a new infu­sion of cash for a pro­gram that has been a life­line for small busi­ness­es across the coun­try, includ­ing 108,000 Wash­ing­ton state small busi­ness­es and non­prof­its who received $12.5 bil­lion in PPP loans,” accord­ing to Cantwell’s office.

“Cantwell’s pro­vi­sion pro­vides a fix to the Small Busi­ness Administration’s (SBA) affil­i­a­tion rule, which pre­vi­ous­ly pre­vent­ed local news out­lets that were owned by larg­er par­ent com­pa­nies from access­ing PPP fund­ing,” the Sen­a­tor’s staff wrote.

“The pro­vi­sion would make news­pa­pers and local radio and TV sta­tions that pro­duce and dis­trib­ute local news and emer­gency infor­ma­tion eli­gi­ble for PPP funds even if owned by a larg­er enti­ty as long as the indi­vid­ual radio or TV sta­tion has no more than 500 employ­ees or the indi­vid­ual news­pa­per has 1,000 or few­er employ­ees. The pro­vi­sion would also make pub­lic broad­cast­ers that are oper­at­ed by large uni­ver­si­ties eli­gi­ble for PPP, which would ben­e­fit pub­lic radio sta­tions like those run out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton and Wash­ing­ton State University.”

Cantwell also tout­ed the inclu­sion of $1 bil­lion in fund­ing for bad­ly need­ed trib­al broad­band and $250 mil­lion in tele­health programs.

“Indi­an Coun­try needs a lot of con­nec­tiv­i­ty,” said Cantwell. “So get­ting more broad­band into those com­mu­ni­ties will be very help­ful. The COVID pack­age also con­tains mon­ey… for tele­health. Tele­health is a crit­i­cal path dur­ing the COVID cri­sis to make sure that com­mu­ni­ties have the abil­i­ty to get expert advice into our homes, into our com­mu­ni­ties, to con­nect peo­ple with infor­ma­tion. So this tele­health grant is a very impor­tant pro­gram in the State of Washington.”

Sen­a­tor Mur­ray’s office announced that she was able to secure fund­ing for pri­or­i­ties like a new Low-Income House­hold Drink­ing Water and Waste­water Emer­gency Assis­tance Pro­gram. The pro­gram will make grants to state, local, and Trib­al gov­ern­ments to dis­trib­ute to drink­ing water and waste­water util­i­ties, Mur­ray’s staff explain, and received $638 mil­lion in funding.

Mur­ray also got lan­guage added to put the brakes on the planned clo­sure and sale of the Nation­al Archives’ Seat­tle cam­pus. The fis­cal mega­bill “includes lan­guage for NARA and GSA to explore action to pre­vent the imme­di­ate clo­sure of the Sand Point facil­i­ty as well as iden­ti­fy long-term options to ensure con­tin­ued access to its con­tents,” accord­ing to Mur­ray’s staff.

The bill also includes Mur­ray’s Water Devel­op­ment Resources Act (WRDA) 2020. This “includes pro­vi­sions Sen­a­tor Mur­ray has long fought for to reform the Har­bor Main­te­nance Tax (HMT) and to more equi­tably dis­trib­ute mon­ey from the Har­bor Main­te­nance Trust Fund (HMTF) for main­te­nance projects at America’s ports.”

“For too long, the exist­ing sys­tem has forced Wash­ing­ton state ports to oper­ate at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage, sti­fling our state’s poten­tial for eco­nom­ic growth and threat­en­ing thou­sands of good pay­ing jobs” Sen­a­tor Mur­ray said.

“This bill takes crit­i­cal steps to secure the long-term finan­cial out­look of the ports of Seat­tle and Taco­ma, among oth­ers, keep jobs in Wash­ing­ton State, and fix this bro­ken sys­tem. As a cham­pi­on for our ports I’m glad we’ll be able to final­ly make these changes, and I look for­ward to the bill being signed into law.”

WRDA is a big win for Wash­ing­ton State’s mar­itime sec­tor, and as Sen­a­tor Mur­ray says, will help pro­tect some of the best pay­ing blue col­lar jobs we have left.

As we learn more about what’s in this bill, we’ll have more reflec­tions and analy­sis to share about it here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate. You can also expect a recap of the bill in the next install­ment of our series Last Week In Con­gress.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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