Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

House-Approved COVID Relief Bill Could Use Improvements in Senate

Feb 27, 2021 | Other Spending

For Immediate Release

The House today approved a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill to continue combating the pandemic and supporting the economic recovery. While some of the funds would go to key priorities, the legislation also includes measures not directly related to the pandemic and spending that could be better targeted. Below is a statement from Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

The good news is that vaccinations are getting to the public, COVID cases are dropping, and the economy is showing signs of a strong recovery this year. But we still have more to do to truly end this pandemic and help households and businesses that are still struggling.

The House bill includes elements to address those primary concerns – in particular, funds to expand vaccinations, contain the pandemic, reopen schools, and extend expiring unemployment benefits.

But it is also clear that the targeting of this bill could be improved. It directs significant resources to those who have not been harmed by the pandemic or recession. Those policies may be popular or sensible, but they do not belong in this emergency bill.

Specifically, state and local government budgets aren’t in anywhere near as dire a situation as initially projected. The third round of rebate checks will to go many households that don’t need them, right as U.S. incomes continue to show strong growth. And expanded unemployment benefits would be cutoff in August – one month earlier than the Biden administration called for to make room for a pension bailout – creating yet another income cliff for some of the most vulnerable.

Furthermore, the bill directs a substantial amount of funds to unrelated political objectives that have been around for years. These may be worthwhile proposals, but they should not be stuck in legislation intended to help deal with this emergency – particularly if they are intended to last beyond this crisis.

We shouldn’t be afraid to “go big” or borrow what’s needed to deal with the crisis and support a robust economic rebound. But going big doesn’t excuse borrowing that won’t actually help fight the virus or boost the economy. Adding to the deficit still comes with risk and should be done judiciously.

As the bill goes to the Senate, hopefully lawmakers will use this opportunity to reflect on how much aid we’ve already provided, what’s necessary to accelerate vaccinations, and where additional fiscal relief will do the most good. A better targeted relief bill would still get money where it’s needed without making our long-term fiscal outlook worse than it needs to be.

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For more information, please contact John Buhl, director of media relations, at buhl@crfb.org.