WASHINGTON, D.C. — With passage of President Joe Biden’s massive COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus bill, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee is worried.
Sure, Democrats, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate, were able to push through approval of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. That’s Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 and economic relief package, approved by the Senate on Saturday and by the House on Wednesday.
“But I’d ask the question, where does it lead?” Lee, a Republican, said during an online town hall meeting on Wednesday with U.S. Rep. Blake Moore. “This isn’t going to be pleasant and it’s not going to result in a favorable outcome for anyone.”
Lee warned that the national debt now hovers around $30 trillion and he worries if interest rates on U.S. Treasury notes edge up from their “historic lows,” the U.S. government will face annual interest payments of more than $1 trillion.
Moore, meeting with Lee in his Washington, D.C., office, offered his own criticism, calling the measure a “wish list” of Democratic measures and describing it as Democratic overreach. “We wanted the focus on vaccines. We wanted the focus on getting school back, enabling parents to get more fully back to work,” he said. Moore, like the rest of the House Republicans, voted against it, as did Senate Republicans.
Democrats tout the measure as a way to jumpstart the U.S. economy and deal with COVID-19, but the message from Wednesday’s town hall was a grim one. Among other things, the measure provides $1,400 payments to people making up to $75,000 a year and earmarks $14 billion to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, according to CBS News. It also contains more funding for jobless benefits and an expanded child tax credit. Biden is expected to sign the measure into law on Friday.
“It was a COVID bill with a whole lot of bill and not very much COVID. This thing was about $2 trillion and very little of it actually went to COVID,” Lee said. GOP efforts to amend the measure, he went on, were defeated by Democrats one after the other.
The bill contains a “$375 billion bailout to certain states” that Lee described as unfair, potentially costing states like Utah. “It was a massive transfer of wealth from well-managed states like ours to more poorly managed states. It also contains a number of provisions that really are much more about big government giveways and earmarks, giving $15 billion to the airline industry, for example,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah’s other senator, also voted against Biden’s COVID-19 relief package, as did U.S. Reps. Burgess Owens, John Curtis and Chris Stewart, who round out Utah’s all-GOP federal delegation.
Lee periodically holds virtual gatherings, but Wednesday’s differed in that it included Moore, the freshman 1st District representative and, like Lee, a Republican. Just before the meeting with Moore, Lee held a town hall gathering with Owens, the freshman lawmaker representing Utah’s 4th District.
Lee and Moore also discussed election reform, a hot issue that harkens to undocumented and rebuffed charges of voter fraud in last November’s U.S. presidential vote.
“I’m curious whether we’re ever going to have fair (elections) again,” asked one caller to the town hall gathering.
“Greg, I sure hope so,” answered Lee.
Both Lee and Moore lauded the process in Utah as managed by election officials here, with Lee saying election reform is a matter for states to decide. “Each state really needs to make these decisions for itself,” he said. “One of the last things we want is for the federal government to assume control over all elections everywhere.”
Lee also said he’d push hard against House Resolution 1, the election reform measure crafted by Democratic lawmakers. The House passed it along partisan lines, 220-210, and it has yet to go before the Senate. “H.R. 1 is a really, really bad bill and I’m going to oppose it with ever fiber of my being and do everything to assure its defeat,” Lee said.
The H.R. 1 summary says it would “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants” and more. GOPers, though, worry it would bolster the power of the federal government in picking leaders.