Congress has finished making April showers — showers of money to the tune of trillions. Now they’re on recess for a week. For what made and didn’t make the latest stimulus bill and a look ahead, Bloomberg Government editorial director Loren Duggan joined Federal Drive with Tom Temin.
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Tom Temin: And Loren, I guess you can maybe rundown what’s not in the bill, which might give a clue to whether and if there will be a stimulus bill five, six and seven?
Loren Duggan: Well, there’s certainly talks about the next round of stimulus bills and the numbering could be interesting, too, because while we had three phases going into the bill considered last week, that bill wasn’t necessarily phase four. Some people called it the interim bill. So the numbering of these, perhaps historically is gonna be a little harder to figure out. But the House and the Senate passed that bill last week, are gone for at least another week, but are already talking about what may be needed in the future to continue to stimulate the economy and help people affected by the coronavirus. The big thing that wasn’t in this package that could be at the heart of the next one is aid to state and local governments. Now there have been some programs that have gone out to state and local governments and they’re obviously getting money through a lot of the other different programs that are going through government agencies. But this is about direct aid, which many of the governors say they need because their states are hurting. They have a revenue issue. They have additional expenses, obviously, from dealing with the coronavirus and have had to pay a lot of bills here and are going to have a hard time meeting their budgets, especially if they’re in states, for example, that have balanced budget amendments that may make it harder to operate here. So that’s going to be, I think, the centerpiece of the next bill. But hardly the only thing that members are going to seek because there were other things left on the cutting room floor here. In particular, additional SNAP benefits or food stamp benefits. While there has been additional money that went to the program in the previous bills, Democrats would like to see a percentage increase in the benefit that actually reaches families on that program. And then there’s also calls for things like election aid either fixing money that already went out so it can be spent in the way that some members of Congress would like to see it or a lot of additional funds to handle voting by mail or other adjustments, that they maybe needed this fall, when Americans elect the president and the Congress and their state and local officials as well.
Tom Temin: And have you heard hints that some of the oversight mechanisms are going to kick in anytime soon and besides the legally created oversight bodies from the CARES Act, are members going to start looking into the stuff? I know that was one letter to the Small Business Administration over a data breach, and that letter noted they’d gotten almost $3 billion for the operation of the agency. What’s your sense on that point?
Loren Duggan: Oversight is definitely going to kick in. And there were some official mechanisms put into place by the CARES Act. There’s a commission that has nominees from the four leaders in Congress and a chairman jointly selected by Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that has I believe the four congressional members. And that should be up and running soon. There’s the panel of inspectors general that was created by that law. And then there’s also a Special Inspector General created by that law. Separately, last week, we saw the house create a new select subcommittee, which will be led by Jim Clyburn, who’s the number three Democrat in the house. And that should be getting up and running soon as well. Now, Republicans were not on board with the creation of that new select subcommittee saying that there were the mechanisms created and cares. And of course, all the other committees in Congress have oversight roles to have the agencies that got funding. We know the chairman, the ranking members on the house in the senate side have raised questions when they’ve seen things that they’re not comfortable with. hearings have not really been a factor because the House and Senate haven’t been in session, or at least not doing that when they are in town. But we probably see we’ll see more letters, we’ll see more phone calls. And we will see hearings restart eventually, where people will look into how agencies operate. form, what steps they didn’t take. And there’s going to be competing calls for different aspects to be looked into. I’m sure we’ll see more calls to investigate the World Health Organization and its operations, given what the administration has said and many Republicans have said there. So I think we will have a number of investigations going forward or oversight hearings. That’s gonna be a factor here for sure.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Loren Duggan, editorial director of Bloomberg Government. Give us a sense of what it’s like from an observational standpoint with all of those members with – well too bad they weren’t muzzles in some cases, but – masks on, talking to one another. It’s kind of surreal, isn’t it?
Loren Duggan: It has been. I’ve not been up on the Hill during any of this. I’ll say that for the record, but I have watched proceedings virtually as many have and on the House floor. You had a dias full of members and staff with masks on which is just unusual to see and people spread out in the chamber. The Rules Committee, which has a very tight meeting room up in the Capitol usually, when they met last Wednesday they met in a bigger committee room so they could spread out. So instead of being, you know, inches or feet from each other, they had space and they were in masks and it was very spread out. So it’s a very unusual way to see Congress. The House when it voted, took a very long time because they went in groups of members to the floor to vote and then to get out to try and limit exposure. And so a vote that normally could take 15 minutes or even five minutes, if it’s a sequence of votes, took well over an hour, an hour and a half to handle just because of the steps that were being taken. So Congress can meet in this very kind of unusual, stretched out socially distant fashion, but it’s a lot less efficient then because, you know, sometimes they’ll stack 10, 20 votes in a row. You can’t do that if it’s gonna take at 90 minutes to get through everyone voting, so a very unusual Congress to be sure.
Tom Temin: And I wonder if partisan lines might be drawn a little bit more sharply when it comes to aid to the states because that would be a big ticket item and Mitch McConnell hinted at it. And a few people have raised a small voice on this matter. But the fact is all of this money is being printed. It’s trillions in excess of what the revenues are coming into the government this year. Therefore, the debt is going to be three, four, perhaps five times what it would have been otherwise. Is that at all factor from what you can tell in anybody’s thinking?
Loren Duggan: It is. And you heard members voice that in the Senate session when they met for not a very long time and ended up passing the bill by voice vote. You did have a dissent from Rand Paul, who sometimes is the only vote on the other side of all his colleagues on things, but he’s very worried about the amount of money that’s been spent here so far, the debt that we will incur to pay for this. There are partisan differences in what goes in this bill and doesn’t. If you listen to the debate, Republicans said we were ready to go a long time ago with the aid to replenish this paycheck Protection Program, the SBA program, but Democrats wanted more and that slowed it down. And Democrats would say that, well, we only got what we wanted because we slowed you down. And we still don’t have everything we still need more. So partisanship was very much part of the discussion and the debate that was had on this bill, even though in the House the eventual vote was 388-to-5 on passing this interim package. But when it comes to things like state aid, there will be partisan differences. And I think partisan differences will be part of the oversight mechanisms that they kick in and what people choose to look at, not look at, the questions that they ask of witnesses when they come up. So that will be part of the factor here going forward. Once members get back into town and even before then on Twitter, social media and the mechanisms people are using to stay in touch with their constituents.
Tom Temin: What fun. Loren Duggan is editorial director of Bloomberg Government, as always, thanks so much for joining me.
Loren Duggan: Thank you.
Tom Temin: We’ll post this interview at www.FederalNewsNetwork.com/FederalDrive. Subscribe to the Federal Drive at Apple Podcasts or Podcastone.