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Let’s Work Together

By Sen. John Thune

February 26, 2021

Congress has passed five COVID relief bills, and every single one of them was overwhelmingly bipartisan. It’s unfortunate that as we consider additional relief measures, Democrats have made it clear that they are determined to do it on a purely partisan basis – which is particularly disappointing because, again, up until now, COVID relief has been a bipartisan process.

In a recent speech, President Biden acknowledged that people have criticized his $1.9 trillion plan but asked, “What would they have me cut?  What would they have me leave out?” Let me offer a few ideas.

For starters, it might be a good idea to cut the sections of the Democrats’ bill that have nothing to do with combating COVID. Less than 10 percent of the bill is directly related to combating COVID through public health spending. Less than 10 percent.

He could also cut the bill’s minimum wage hike. The Democrat spending bill would more than double the federal minimum wage – at the cost of an estimated 1.4 million jobs, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. That would be problematic enough at a time when we’re already dealing with substantial job losses. It’s even worse when you realize that the people most likely to lose their jobs as a result of this hike would be lower-income workers.

I would also suggest that the president cut his $86 billion bailout of multiemployer pension plans, which has nothing to do with emergency COVID relief.

The president could also consider cutting his $350 billion slush fund for states and localities – which would be used mostly to reward states that shut down their businesses for extended periods and, therefore, have higher unemployment rates. It’s become clear that a majority of states, including South Dakota, are doing okay financially, despite the pandemic. A number of states actually saw higher tax revenues in 2020, and a majority of states have the resources they need to weather the rest of this crisis.

Then of course there’s the money the bill includes for schools. While children in some places – like South Dakota – are in school, we need to get all kids back to in-person learning. In-person learning is important for kids’ academic, social, and emotional health, and as Republicans have demonstrated, we want to ensure schools have the resources they need to get back into the classroom safely. Our previous coronavirus bills contained more than $100 billion for education, and I think it’s safe to say that every Republican would support additional dollars if needed.

But the fact of the matter is, schools still have billions of dollars from previous coronavirus legislation that remains unspent. And the Biden spending bill would appropriate an additional $129 billion for schools that would receive the funding whether or not they get kids back into the classroom. On top of that, most of that money going to schools will stretch all the way to 2028 – in other words, long after the pandemic will be over. In fact, 95 percent of the education spending would occur after 2021. Ultimately, the Biden spending bill’s school funding ends up looking less like a plan to get our kids back in schools and more like caving in to the teachers’ unions.

If President Biden would like to know what to cut, I’d suggest he start with some of the things I’ve highlighted. I would ask that he and the Democrat leadership abandon their plan to shove through a bloated, partisan bill and start trying for the unity the president has talked about. The president could show that he really meant what he said in his inaugural address by sitting down with Republicans to develop targeted relief legislation. We’re ready to come to the table. The ball is in the president’s court.