On Monday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) released a 1,400 page bill that serves as the House response to the Senate’s Phase 3 COVID-19 (coronavirus) relief package. While NTU had to correct some myths about the Senate package serving as a “slush fund” for special interests, we are concerned that the Pelosi package contains dozens of provisions that are unrelated to the pandemic and unnecessary to combat the consequent economic downturn. We don’t include these provisions to argue for or against them on the merits, but merely to point out that they are superfluous to the crises at hand and don’t belong in an emergency package. Based on our rough estimate of the costs available to us, these unnecessary provisions would cost at least $434 billion, and almost certainly far more. Several provisions would also impose expensive, significant, and permanent requirements on businesses large and small. A list of those provisions are below (along with their cost when lawmakers provided a figure):
$10,000 in federal student loan debt forgiveness for every borrower: any student with $10,000 in federal student loan debt or more would have $10,000 of their debt forgiven “within 90 days of the end of the national emergency”; borrowers with less than $10,000 in federal student loan debt would have their entire debt forgiven. The think tank New America estimated that forgiving up to $10,000 of student loan debt would cost $370.5 billion.
Elimination of $11 billion in Postal Service debt: though $25 billion in aid to the U.S. Postal Service is earmarked for losses due to COVID-19, an additional $11 billion in debt to the Department of Treasury is forgiven under Division N; the Division would also eliminate the annual $3 billion borrowing limit on USPS. Postal reform is a complicated, hotly-debated topic with huge implications for taxpayers; it does not belong in time-sensitive emergency legislation.
Permanent expansion of Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium tax credits: the bill would expand eligibility for ACA (Obamacare) premium tax credits beyond 400 percent of the federal poverty line (FPL), and increase the size of credits below 400 percent of the FPL.
Ban on short term limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans: the bill would effectively nullify a regulation allowing for STLDI plans; the provision gives no indicator of what anyone with an STLDI plan is supposed to do should their coverage be thrown into doubt.
Halting the Administration’s Medicaid Fiscal Accountability Regulation (MFAR): the bill would prevent the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from finalizing his MFAR rule for two years after the end of the public emergency.
Increases in federal support for Medicaid that apply beyond the COVID-19 emergency: the bill would create a permanent mechanism for the federal government to increase its Medicaid contributions to the states during economic downturns; while increasing the Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage (FMAP) during this economic and public health emergency can certainly be considered on policy grounds, it’s imprudent to use emergency legislation to increase FMAP beyond the COVID-19 crisis, and to permanently tie it to certain conditions.
Requiring businesses receiving loans - and all their contractors, subcontractors, and affiliates - to provide health insurance: the $250 billion in loans in Division Y appear to come with a condition that all businesses provide, “within 60 days,” health insurance benefits to all employees for the five-year period after the loan; the section extends that requirement to all contractors, subcontractors, and affiliates of the business.
Prohibiting businesses receiving loans from outsourcing any jobs previously performed by direct employees laid off after January 1, 2020, and requiring businesses receiving loans to on-shore any job, for five years: the $250 billion in loans in Division Y appear to come with a condition that all businesses not outsource “to any other business” a job performed by direct employees who were laid off or furloughed; it also requires businesses to “on-shore...any job, function, or labor” that the eligible business requires for five years.
Requiring businesses receiving loans to be neutral in all union organizing activities: for five years after any business receives loans under the bill, they must “remain neutral during any organizing campaign by the employees of the employer on behalf of representation by a labor organization.” This highly-controversial provision does not belong in emergency legislation.
Requiring corporations to provide paid sick leave as a condition for aid: a permanent requirement for any corporation receiving COVID-19 aid to provide 14 days of paid sick leave for all employees and contractors, full-time and part-time.
Requiring corporations to pay a $15 minimum wage as a condition for aid: a permanent requirement for any corporation receiving COVID-19 aid is that, by 2021, they pay each full-time and part-time employee a wage of $15 per hour or more.
Requiring corporations to limit CEO pay as a condition for aid: a permanent requirement for any corporation receiving COVID-19 aid is that the “CEO to median worker pay ratio” not be greater than 50 to 1.
Requiring corporations to not alter a collective bargaining agreement in any way as a condition for aid: through the end of the emergency, corporations receiving COVID-19 aid can not make a single change to any collective bargaining agreement.
Banning federal lobbying until COVID-19 aid is repaid: corporations would be banned from any federal lobbying activities until the COVID-19 aid is fully repaid. This would have serious constitutional implications.
Several restrictions on airlines receiving COVID-19 aid: several of the above restrictions applying to corporations would also apply to airlines, including: paid sick leave, 50:1 CEO-to-worker pay limit, ban on stock buybacks and dividends, a $15 minimum wage (for all employees and contracted workers for 10 years), and a “snap-back” on any alterations to collective bargaining agreements; the bill would add several new restrictions, including union representation on airline boards, a ban on the outsourcing of jobs, and comprehensive health care coverage.
Requiring airlines to remain neutral on union organizing campaigns: a condition for COVID-19 aid is that airlines remain neutral in any union organizing campaign; this requirement appears to be permanent, violating the spirit of legislation to address a temporary emergency.
Vague ban on “unreasonable increase[s]” in the price of plane tickets: for the duration of the emergency, the bill would ban airlines from imposing “any unreasonable increase in the price of [a] ticket,” or to charge any change or cancellation fee; the section is vague as to what constitutes an “unreasonable increase.”
Permanent reporting requirements for airline “ancillary” fees: the bill would permanently require airlines to report ancillary revenues to the Secretary of Transportation every quarter, including revenue for booking fees, priority check-in, baggage, in-flight entertainment and meals, internet access, seating assignments, pets, and more. Permanent conditions like this do not belong in a bill to address a temporary emergency.
A number of airline climate initiatives that are unrelated to the COVID-19 crisis: the bill would 1) provide grants to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to develop sustainable fuels; 2) create a “cash for clunkers” program for “inefficient airplanes”; 3) expand an FAA program on emissions to all commercial airports, not just ones in environmentally sensitive areas; and 4) direct airlines to reduce emissions by 50 percent by 2050. The middle of a global health pandemic is not the time to debate emissions and climate regulations.
Suspension of all negative consumer credit information during emergency: the bill bans any “adverse item of information” in consumer credit reports during the COVID-19 emergency, unless it is “related to a felony criminal conviction.”
$300 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): the legislation specifies that the money is for “grants to respond to the coronavirus,” but makes unclear why NEA needs almost double its normal appropriations to respond to COVID-19.
$300 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): the legislation specifies that the money is for “grants to respond to the coronavirus,” but makes unclear why NEH needs almost double its normal appropriations to respond to COVID-19.
$35 million for the Kennedy Center: the legislation specifies that the money is “for operations and maintenance requirements related to the consequences of coronavirus,” but it is unclear why the Kennedy Center needs $10 million more than its entire FY 2019 operations and maintenance budget.
Permanent reforms to election law: these provisions would implement permanent changes to election law by expanding early voting, absentee voting, and voting-by-mail policies. While some changes may be necessary for the election in November, it is not clear why these modifications are extended into perpetuity or why they should be implemented now, as opposed to after the crisis has subsided.
Overturning the administration’s actions on collective bargaining: this provision would nullify three executive orders and a presidential memorandum pertaining to the ability of federal workers to engage in collective bargaining. These are highly controversial policies with strong partisan disagreement.
Child Tax Credit expansion: this provision would expand the Child Tax Credit through the year 2025 -- long after the coronavirus crisis is expected to last. The credit would increase from $2,000 to $3,000, become fully refundable, and provide an additional $600 for children under the age of 6. This is a highly-consequential policy change with effects far outside any likely COVID-19 crisis period.
Reform amortization schedules for single-employer pension plans: this provision would zero out existing pension amortization shortfalls.
Bailing out multi-employer pension plans via the Butch Lewis Act: This provision would provide loans to bail out multi-employer private pension plans. As standalone legislation, it passed the House in July by a vote of 264-169, but due to sharp policy differences the Senate has declined to move the bill. This would cost at least $52 billion over 10 years (likely more), because it appears to contain all the new spending in H.R. 397, without the partial, $15.5-billion pay-for included in the H.R. 397.
Creating a new type of retirement plan via the GROW Act: this provision would create a new type of retirement plan that has properties of both a defined-benefit and defined-contribution plan. While this has some bipartisan support, it does not directly relate to the current crisis.