Politics & Policy

Nancy Pelosi’s 1,400-Page Coronavirus-Relief Boondoggle

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes a statement about coronavirus economic-relief legislation on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Pool/via Reuters)
The speaker of the House offers a thoroughly unserious proposal to address a deadly serious crisis.

The coronavirus-relief package proposed by House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) is 1,432 pages long. Many of those pages have nothing whatsoever to do with abating the pandemic that has ground our nation to a halt, nor with aiding industries forced to lay off workers due to frozen demand. Instead, the package spends a shocking amount of ink on the arcane ideological projects of the most progressive members of Pelosi’s caucus.

Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) told fellow his fellow House Democrats last week that COVID-19, which has killed more than 17,000 people around the world and is threatening to leave the country in financial ruin, represented a “tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

Pelosi and her caucus apparently took note, as the latest proposal from House Democrats reflects a deliberate attempt to “restructure” everything from corporate boardrooms to the diversity of businesses’ supply-chains. Here is a sampling of the bill’s most egregious provisions.

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Diversity Initiatives

Amending FIRREA to Protect Financial Institutions Operated by Women

Section 308 of the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 instructs the Treasury secretary to consult with the chairman of the FDIC’s board of directors to preserve the “number of minority depository institutions” owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.” That vague category has, according to the FDIC, historically included banks and other financial institutions owned by African Americans, American Indians, and members of other minority groups. Pelosi’s bill would expand Section 308 to cover banks and financial institutions in which at least half of outstanding shares are held by one or more women, or whose board of directors are majority-female. Given that women make up the statistical majority of the American population, it’s strange that House Democrats would seek to expand a law designed to support “minority depository institutions” to include them. It’s even stranger that they’d seek to do so in a bill ostensibly designed to provide relief to Americans facing a global pandemic.

Establishment of a “Minority Bank Deposit Program,” Federal Diversity Reporting Requirements

This section obliges the head of each federal department or agency to “develop and implement standards and procedures to ensure, to the maximum extent possible as permitted by law, the use of minority banks and minority credit unions to serve the financial needs of each such department or agency.” It would also require all federal departments and agencies to submit an annual report to Congress detailing the extent of their use of financial institutions owned by racial minorities and women. Whatever the merits of this idea, it, like the above proposed changes to Section 308 of FIRREA, does not belong in a coronavirus-relief package.

Diversity Reporting Requirements for Businesses Receiving Federal Aid

All publicly traded corporations receiving federal aid would, under the Pelosi proposal, be required to file quarterly disclosures to the SEC detailing their demographic “composition, including data on diversity (including racial and gender composition) and any policies and audits related to diversity.”

All companies, publicly traded and privately held alike, that receive federal aid related to COVID-19 would be required to release a report “no later than one year after the disbursement of funds” disclosing the demographics of their employees, and including breakdowns by seniority and managerial status. They would also be required to report the demographic breakdowns of their supply chains, disclose data on the diversity of their corporate boards, and issue a “pay equity” report that disaggregates compensation data by race and gender. And “any corporation that receives Federal aid related to COVID–19 must maintain officials and budget dedicated to diversity and inclusion initiatives for no less than 5 years after disbursement of funds.”

What the number of Hispanics in a given aid recipient’s supply chain or the presence of “inclusion initiatives” have to do with propping up the pandemic-battered economy remains unclear.

Restructuring Corporate Boards

Aid Recipients Must Allow Labor to Appoint One-Third of Corporate Board Members

All companies that receive federal aid related to COVID-19 would be required, under the House proposal, to appoint at least one-third of their board members through “a one-employee-one-vote election process.” In other words, if companies accept aid from the federal government at a moment when, because of a completely unforeseeable global catastrophe, demand has cratered in response to a lethal pandemic, the House bill would force them to completely upend their boards of directors to no conceivable end other than the fulfillment of a longstanding progressive wish.

Requiring States to Allow Same-Day Voter Registration

Amending the Help America Vote Act to Require States to Accommodate Same-Day Registrants

The Help America Vote Act was signed by President Bush in 2002. It helped to modernize the nation’s voting infrastructure by calling for the creation of computerized voter-registration rolls at the state level, constructing federal accessibility guidelines to accommodate voters with disabilities, and setting up the Electoral Assistance Commission to certify state voting systems. Pelosi’s coronavirus-relief bill, which ostensibly is intended to provide “relief” to businesses and individuals affected, directly or otherwise, by the coronavirus, inexplicably seeks to amend the Help America Vote Act, and, in so doing, upend state election protocols by requiring states to allow same-day voter registration. Twenty-nine states do not allow such registration. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia do. It is not clear that this divide need be resolved at all, much less that it ought to be resolved at the federal level. And it is completely unclear why such a provision has any place in an emergency economic-stimulus package.

Immigration

Prohibiting Institutions of Higher Learning from Disclosing the Immigration Status of Students

In a portion of the bill addressing the contingency protocols for the administration of the 2020 U.S. Census, the House bill includes a section on institutions of higher learning. The bill proscribes colleges and universities from disclosing “any information to the Bureau on the immigration or citizenship status of any individual” enrolled there. What this has to do with the coronavirus crisis, no one knows.

Deinstitutionalization

Reauthorization of Money Follows the Person

The House Bill extends the Money Follows the Person (MFP) program in Medicaid. A darling of deinstitutionalization exponents in Congress, MFP is a federal program designed to incentivize states to move the elderly and persons with intellectual disabilities out of “institutions,” such as Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF) and nursing homes and into “community” settings, such as group homes. The program is controversial, because despite its presentation as a “voluntary” initiative, it incentivizes states to close “institutions” that those with the most profound disabilities rely upon through an enhanced federal-matching arrangement. In Wisconsin, for instance, state officials began “identifying ICF-MR facilities to be downsized or closed” and created a bureaucratic morass to promote “alternatives to ICF-MR facilities.” Twenty-eight such facilities have been closed in the state since the start of the program, and more than 900 individuals they served have been relocated. When such closures are pushed from the state level on down — when state-run ICFs are closed or private ICFs are coaxed to “convert” their facilities into “community-based settings” with the guarantee of federal funds — individuals with disabilities and their families are left with little choice but to move.

The renewal of Money Follows the Person deserves to be debated properly. It should not be smuggled into an emergency appropriations bill of this sort.

Environmental Regulations

Grant Program for “Sustainable Aviation Fuel”

Title VII of the House bill is devoted entirely to “environmental protections.” The title’s opening section calls for the institution of a “Sustainable Aviation Fuel Development Program.” The Transportation secretary would be given the power to disburse grant monies based upon the “potential greenhouse gases emitted from” an applicant’s project and the “potential the project has in reducing United States greenhouse gas emissions associated with air travel.” Two hundred million dollars would be appropriated annually to the grant program. The program’s relevance to the global pandemic is left unaddressed.

Mandatory Carbon Offsets for Airlines

Every airline receiving federal aid would be required to “fully offset [its] annual carbon emissions [from] domestic flights beginning in 2025.” Airlines would also be required to submit an annual report detailing their fealty to “a binding commitment to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the domestic flights of such air carrier in every calendar year, beginning with 2021, on a path consistent with a 25 percent reduction in the aviation sector’s emissions from 2019 levels by 2035, and a 50 percent reduction in the sector’s emissions from 2019 levels by 2050.” These are radical proposals that would never pass the current Congress, but House Democrats are intent on leveraging a global pandemic to sneak them across the finish line.

*    *    *

All emergency bills are going to have pork, of course. And yes, the coronavirus-relief package that ultimately makes it to President Trump’s desk isn’t likely to include many of the above proposals. But it remains astounding that House Democrats would, at a moment of perhaps-unprecedented national crisis, propose an emergency-spending bill full of progressive projects unrelated to COVID-19, projects that they knew were a non-starter with their colleagues across the aisle, and thus likely to slow down a process in which time was of the essence. The New York Times editorial board wailed yesterday that “the urgency of the moment does not justify the egregious misuse of public resources.” Someone should tell Nancy Pelosi the news.

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