Coronavirus relief bill contains nearly $12 billion in questionable spending

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President Trump signed the more than $2 trillion coronavirus relief package on Friday and said it would help American workers across the country -- but the bill also includes millions for items unrelated to the pandemic.

Fox News counted them up and found nearly $12 billion in spending that has a tenuous or disputed connection to the emergency.

The final bill includes:

  • $10,804,687,000 for international development
  • $350,000,000 for refugee resettlement
  • $93,000,000 Congress ($25 million of which is for "salaries and expenses")
  • $75,000,000 for PBS stations
  • $75,000,000 for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities
  • $75,000,000 National Endowment for the Humanities
  • $50,000,000 for the Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • $25,000,000 for the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts
  • $7,500,000 for the Smithsonian Institution

Critics slammed those provisions of the bill.

“It shouldn’t be stuffed full of Nancy Pelosi’s pork -- including $25 million for the Kennedy Center, grants for the National Endowment for the Humanities and Arts, and millions more for other measures that have no direct relation to the Coronavirus Pandemic,” tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., the lone congressman who tried to force a roll call vote that would have delayed the bill.

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The questionably-relevant spending items come alongside stimulus that gives $1,200 payments ($2,400 for married couples) to individuals and hundreds of billions in loans and aid to businesses.

Backers of the bill say some questionable items are not as ridiculous as they may sound.

On Wednesday, Trump was asked about the $25 million allocated to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in D.C.

“The Kennedy Center has suffered greatly because nobody can go there,” Trump responded. “It’s essentially closed, and they do need some funding. And I said, ‘look’ -- that was a Democrat request. That was not my request. But you got to give them something. It’s something that they wanted. You know, it works that way.”

Trump added that the money for the center was negotiated down from $35 million to $25 million, while noting that the reduction was less impressive than he’d like.

“That’s not a good soundbite. But that’s the way life works,” Trump said.

Supporters of the president say the provisions are a necessary evil.

"President Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been bold, exceptional and so far successful, but it is also clear that he is still forced to function within many of the swamp's long-standing, dysfunctional practices,” Michael Johns, a co-founder of the national Tea Party movement and a former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, told Fox News.

“Most of the funds and resources allocated under the stimulus bill are absolutely essential,” he said.

More than 99 percent of the bill’s funding goes to provisions directly tied to economic or emergency support.

Advocates of the much-criticized spending carve-outs say there are reasons for them.

Local PBS stations say the money is needed because it’s harder for them to find the donations they depend on.

“How do you fundraise in the middle of a pandemic?” Mike Wall, of the public broadcasting outfit in Kodiak, Alaska, told The Washington Post. “I don’t want to be the guy going on the air in the middle of the virus saying, ‘Hey, by the way, now give us some dough.’”

Other advocates for public broadcasting said they needed even more funding that the bill provides.

“Seventy-five million is good but it’s really not enough,” Viktorya Vilk, program director for digital safety and free expression at PEN America, told The Post.

Other lines in the emergency bill have their own supporters.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar defended the $350 million for refugee resettlement, tweeting: “Immigrants and refugees, are Americans/pay taxes and as vulnerable communities need the resources ‘..to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.’”

As for the billions going to overseas aid in the developing world, the international development aid news outlet Devex reported that lobbyists were disappointed they didn’t get even more money.

“Global health and development advocates had lobbied for more international funding to be included in the package but told Devex that while the relative lack of funding is disappointing so far, it is not surprising U.S. lawmakers are currently focused on domestic response and recovery,” according to Devex.

Several widely-reported provisions in the bill that was first proposed by the House of Representatives also did not make it to the final bill, including emissions limits on airlines.

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The final bill does give $400 million to states for “Election Security Grants" but does not say that the money must go to create mail-in ballot systems, which critics had said would raise additional election security problems.

Many economists say the bill, even with irrelevant spending, is necessary.

“It’s the political reality that unrelated things get attached all the time to “must-pass” legislation. Is this desirable? No. But the American people needed relief yesterday. This had to pass right away, even if it’s far from perfect,” Texas-based economist and political consultant Abby McCloskey told Fox News.

Trump and nearly all Republican members of the House and Senate ultimately decided that emergency relief trumped concerns about needless spending.

“I’m profoundly grateful that both parties came together to provide relief for American workers and families in this hour of need,” Trump said Thursday.

Maxim Lott is Executive Producer of Stossel TV and creator of ElectionBettingOdds.com. He can be reached on Twitter at @MaximLott.