Former Biden advisers urge the president to update his COVID-19 strategy
Dr. Michael Osterholm gives his take on updating the strategy to combat COVID-19 on ‘The Story’
Are they kidding?
The Washington Post reports that the Joe Biden White House will soon ask Congress for even more money to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
More money, that is, than the $5.4 trillion already allocated by Congress via six separate pieces of legislation over the past 24 months, an unprecedented and dangerous sum that is spurring inflation and keeping people from going back to work.
A sum greater than what was spent fighting World War II or the Great Depression that somehow, according to Biden officials, has failed to adequately provide for COVID testing and remedies.
This has to be the most inept and irresponsible White House in history. Not only are they spending us into a deep, dark hole, but they have failed to make intelligent use of the gargantuan amount of funds set aside to address the pandemic, our country’s most critical problem.
When Republicans refused to go along with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) in March, it was not because they had suddenly become fiscal watchdogs. It was because they were outraged that the gigantic spending plan funneled very little money to the exact problems the White House is now scrambling to fix.
Critics described the Rescue Plan as a grab-bag of progressive programs that had little to do with the pandemic and all to do with paying off Democrat-aligned groups like the teachers unions.
What happened to the rest of the money approved by Congress?
The only people being “rescued” were Democrat legislators who faced losing their jobs as far-left ideologues like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., took control of their party.
Recently, as Americans waited in hours-long lines for COVID tests, inflation hit 40-year highs, and the White House appeared totally unprepared to deal with the omicron surge, people have demanded to know: where did all the money go?
After all, the country has run short of COVID tests even though some $79 billion – more than the entire GDP of Kenya – was allocated to developing and distributing such tests. Tests, it must be said, that candidate Joe Biden put at the heart of his promise to “shut down the virus” in 2020.
People are also asking what happened to the $263 billion allocated to schools over the past two years – the same schools that now say they need even more funding to reopen after the Christmas break.
Here is the shocking truth: according to the website of a government oversight group set up under the 2020 American Cares Act, a mere $351.4 billion of the $5.4 trillion authorized by Congress to fight the pandemic, or less than one dollar in 10, was directed to health care.
Even more appalling: the government has only spent $192 billion of the roughly $303 billion directed to health care, including testing, leaving $111 billion.
In addition to those funds, Congress allocated $114 billion to FEMA’s disaster relief fund, tasking that agency with battling a health care crisis for the first time. Of that total, nearly $70 billion remains unspent. Why can’t the White House use those funds for testing?
What happened to the rest of the money approved by Congress? A whopping $844 billion was sent out as direct relief to Americans – all spent. A further $827 billion was directed to businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, an effort to keep people employed and small firms afloat.
Another budget-busting slice of the pie, $674.3 billion, went to state and local governments. The Rescue Plan included $350 billion, which went to shore up failing (mostly) blue cities and states. The funds were allocated based on an unemployment formula that effectively rewarded local authorities for failing to keep businesses open and workers employed.
It turned out that most local authorities did not need the money. Because the economy recovered more quickly than expected, tax revenues came in above estimates. According to the Tax Foundation, “states have only seen revenue declines of $2 billion, making the state aid component 116 times overall losses.”
Numerous cities and states ended up posting budget surpluses; surely, they could chip in to buy some tests and therapeutics.
In an October report on its oversight of relief funds, the GAO noted that Treasury had failed to set up adequate monitoring of the monies doled out to cities and states. What a shock.
One of the biggest recipients of funding in the various COVID relief bills has been our schools. Taxpayers probably assume that the $263 billion allocated to education was meant to prepare schools for reopening as the virus abated or for helping kids who fell behind as their classes went remote. They would be wrong.
There was no language in the Rescue Act, which contained the latest slug of money, that demanded any such planning or indeed any such commitment.
The funds were available to be used for any purpose chosen by local authorities; only $60 billion of that $263 billion has been spent. Not only was the use of funds left purposefully vague, but the monies were available through 2025.
Most schools across the nation reopened this past fall and did so without using much of that money. Reporting is sketchy, but some school districts spent their funds on non-COVID related ventures like new football fields and weight rooms instead of addressing learning loss. Other districts, including New York City and Los Angeles, categorized their outlays as “other” rather than get into the pesky details of their programs.
It was never going to be easy shoveling $5 trillion out the door. Such large-scale federal spending inevitably leads to massive waste and fraud, like the estimated $100 billion that has reportedly been stolen from the Paycheck Protection Program.
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