Coronavirus relief includes pork such as the Dalai Lama, horse racing, and unenforced laws
After intense negotiations, Congress left late Monday night after they finally passed a massive eleventh-hour bill that combined $900 billion in COVID-19 relief with a $1.4 trillion omnibus government spending measure. While the bill will bring much-needed assistance to millions of Americans suffering the fallout from the pandemic, it also includes some curious items that many believe have no place in the relief package.
The measure includes about $325 billion in small business relief, including $284 billion in forgivable loans for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program; an extension of boosted federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week through March 14, 2021, and a second $600 stimulus check for Americans earning less than $75,000.
The $2.3 trillion catchall package, which will fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, addresses a spate of legislation on taxes, energy, education, and healthcare… and more. It also provides hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and other offshore initiatives.
The bill is monstrous in size – it is a whopping 5,593 pages. It is part of an omnibus appropriations package that wraps 12 spending measures into one. It also contains a number of eyebrow-raising items that are not directly related to government funding or pandemic relief efforts, such as establishing two new branches of the Smithsonian museum near the National Mall, creating national standards for the horse-racing industry, and making illegal streaming a felony.
The bill was overwhelmingly passed by Congress who were not being allowed to leave until they did so. They passed it just a few hours before they were expected to vote on it.
“This is why Congress needs time to actually read this package before voting on it,” AOC tweeted, linking to a story about the legislation making illegal streaming a felony. “Members of Congress have not read this bill. It’s over 5000 pages, arrived at 2 pm today, and we are told to expect a vote on it in 2 hours. This isn’t governance. It’s hostage-taking.” A number of Republicans agree with her on the issue.
The Senate voted 92-6 to approve the measure and the House voted 359-53 in favor.
The legislation oddly includes a section outlining the reincarnation and succession of the Dalai Lama.
The coronavirus relief bill contains a policy statement about “reincarnation of living Buddhas."
Our government is a shit show. pic.twitter.com/VrTlar4old
— Cassandra (@CassyWearsHeels) December 22, 2020
Also established are two new Smithsonian museums that will be located near the National Mall in Washington: The Women’s History Museum and the National Museum of the American Latino.
The bill repeals nine strange criminal laws that are rarely, if ever, enforced. People who transport water hyacinths, alligator grass, or water chestnut plants across state lines no longer face up to six months in prison.
Likewise, individuals who use fraudulently use emblems such as the U.S. Forest Service’s “Smokey Bear” and “Woodsy Owl,” the Golden Eagle insignia and the Swiss Confederation’s coat of arms no longer face jail time.
A bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) that would allow the Justice Department to charge businesses for felony copyright infringement if they intentionally stream copyrighted material online is also part of the multitrillion-dollar bill.
Last but not least, the bill includes bipartisan legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) earlier this year that will create national medication and safety standards for the horse racing industry, as well as an anti-doping and racetrack safety program.
It is standard that any bill in Congress anymore represents one focal issue and many other issues piggyback on it. This bill is evidently no different, just more of the same.