Uncle Sam is about to play Santa for America — and the world.
Congress passed a $2.3 trillion COVID-19 relief and government funding bill that gives just $600 to most Americans struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic — while doling out gifts to foreign countries and powerful lawmakers.
In addition to the slim stimulus cash payout, the bill contains a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $284 billion in loans to small businesses and money for transit systems and entertainment venues hard hit by the virus.
The COVID-19 legislation — which was combined with the nation’s regular annual spending bill — also contains more pork than a Christmas ham.
The legislation adds not one but two National Mall museums, $10 million for “gender programs” in Pakistan and $2.5 million for “internet freedom.”
The 5,593-page package wasn’t available until around 2 p.m. Monday before it passed in the House around 9 p.m. and in the Senate before midnight. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.
Here are a list of items — other than the main COVID-19 relief — the bill contains:
- $4 billion for New York’s MTA as part of bailouts for mass-transit systems.
- $15 billion earmarked toward grant programs for live entertainment venues such as Broadway.
- $7 billion toward expanding broadband access.
- $1.4 billion for a construction of a wall on the southern US border.
- A new law saying that violating copyright laws with unauthorized online streaming will become a felony punishable by five years in prison for first offenses and 10 years for repeat offensives. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) pushed the provision.
- A rule saying the US Postal Service can no longer deliver e-cigarettes.
- New museums on the National Mall that will focus on Latinos and women, which were pushed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
- A declaration condemning a possible role by the Chinese Communist Party in the selection of Tibet’s next Dalai Lama. The current Tibetan Buddhist religious leader is 85.
- $500 million earmarked for Israeli defense purchases, including to equip the Iron Dome missile defense system.
- $250 million over five years for Palestinian economic aid, which was pushed by New York Democratic Rep. Nita Lowey.
- $101 million to combat “the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking.”
- $2.5 million for “Internet freedom programs in closed societies”
- $10 million for “gender programs” meant to help women get education and start businesses in Pakistan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) celebrated passage of the bill.
“The Senate just passed another major bipartisan, COVID-19 relief package,” he said. “The American people can rest assured that more help is on the way, immediately.”
Despite having supported $1,200 cash payouts in a bill that passed the House earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted her support for the legislation.
“Pleased that we were able to get so much done #ForThePeople in the closing days of the 116th Congress,” she said.
Not everyone in congress was pleased with the bill.
Outgoing independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan tweeted: “They passed 5,593 pages they didn’t read. . . . It’s not okay. Representative government is important.”
Some of the items in the large deal arguably would not have passed on their own.
For example, in the past decade multiple attempts to punish online piracy prompted broad social backlash and lobbying campaigns that swamped the Capitol Hill switchboard and ultimately killed the efforts.