By Mark Tapscott
Big trouble appears to be brewing in the U.S. Senate over the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” for CCP virus relief approved by House Democrats on Feb. 27.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the Senate Banking Committee’s ranking Republican, said on March 3 the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the $140 million earmark in the House bill for extending San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system into Silicon Valley must be removed.
“Expanding Silicon Valley’s subway has nothing to do with COVID-19 relief and should not have been included in the House bill,” Toomey said in a statement.
“While I am pleased that the Senate Parliamentarian agreed with us that this earmark is impermissible, this bill remains a partisan, liberal grab bag masquerading as a COVID relief bill.
“Congress’ priority should be supporting the vaccine rollout process, facilitating the safe reopening of small businesses, and getting kids back in the classroom—all of which are essential if we are to restore our economy to pre-pandemic levels.”
The BART earmark is the second major feature of the House bill ruled out by the Senate parliamentarian. Previously, the provision of the bill providing for a nationwide increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour was tossed.
The problem for Democrats is two-fold: First, less than 10 percent of the funds covered by the $1.9 trillion bill is for vaccines and vaccine distribution, according to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). The bill does include $400 billion in $1,400 relief checks, but most of the rest will go toward a laundry list of government agencies and projects having nothing to do with battling the disease that originated in Wuhan, China.
Among such spending are $350 billion to bail out high-tax, high-spending state governments such as New York and California, $86 billion to rescue dozens of financially ailing union pension programs, and $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge—in upstate New York—favored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Second, congressional Democrats opted to bring the bill forward under the arcane budget reconciliation process, which imposes strict limits on what kind of spending is appropriate. The trade-off was the process only requires a simple Senate majority for passage, whereas the usual Senate procedure is subject to filibusters that require 60 votes to break.
That decision put Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth McDonough in the position to determine whether specific provisions of proposed legislation satisfy the reconciliation requirements.
The $140 million earmark that was championed in the House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—in whose district much of the funds would be spent—was first discovered in February by members of Toomey’s committee staff.
The project has been in the planning stages for years without reaching a ground-breaking. Estimates of the ultimate cost of the project are close to $7 billion, with completion planned in 2030.
One of the biggest boring machines in the world is required for much of the tunneling involved in the project around the Santa Clara area, which is phase two of the BART program. Santa Clara is home to numerous Big Tech firms and employees.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told the Senate on March 3 that earmarks such as Pelosi’s “subway to nowhere” and Schumer’s “bridge to nowhere” show that “Democrats are back to their old spending games.”
“Most of the 1.9 trillion dollars within the Democrats’ ‘COVID’ package has absolutely nothing to do with COVID,” Ernst said.
“Unlike the previous five pandemic relief bills that were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support, Democrats have shown no interest in working with Republicans and are instead fast-tracking this highly partisan bill through Congress.
“The bulk of this budget-busting bill is devoted to fulfilling a wish list of long-time liberal priorities, including—billion-dollar bailouts, progressive program expansions, and pricey partisan pet projects.”
House Democrats also approved last week a return of earmarks, which had been banned since 2011.
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