COVID relief bill: pork barrel of curiosities or pro-American relief?

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Dusk falls over the Capitol, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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DENVER (KDVR) — The word “relief” appears 197 times in the relief bill passed by Congress Sunday. The word “horse” appears 192 times in the relief bill passed by Congress yesterday.

The public and president have taken note, and in an age of division all sides seem to have found something to hate about the HEROES Act. The public, besieged with a crushed economy, thinks the new $600 direct payment an insulting crumb. Conservatives blame progressive pet projects while progressives fire back that conservative leader Sen. Mitch McConnell did more to stifle American relief than anyone.

President Donald Trump and a scattering of mainly populist conservatives call the HEROES Act a poor excuse for a national relief bill, and in fact more like a sneaky budgetary turducken – COVID relief inside an appropriations bill inside a Democratic pork barrel.

This reaction observes the truth that the COVID relief bill was tied to a government funding omnibus, and so contains many items unrelated to the pandemic.

Still, many items strike as oddly directed.

There are billions in foreign aid with campus-sounding directives attached. There is a five-year strategy to “address the underlying cases of poverty and inequality” in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and $10 million for “gender programs” in Pakistan.

Other progressive goals came through as well. The bill sets up three new museums: the Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, the National Museum of the American Latino and the Coast Guard Museum, which will be built in Connecticut instead of the nation’s capitol.

There is a call to recognize internationally that “the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear abuse of the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.”

Other items would seem simply bizarre to non-government workers.

The bill makes racehorse doping illegal, makes the mailing of e-cigarettes illegal and makes it illegal to stream video material without authorization. It establishes the National Centers of Excellence for Artificial Intelligence, Liquefied Natural Gas Safety and the Automated Systems and Human Factors in Aircraft.

Boebert echoed Trump, who hinted he may veto the bill, and fellow Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck, who claimed, “With just under eight hours to read the 5,593-page bill, I cannot, in good conscience, vote for this legislation that spends billions of taxpayer dollars on pet projects that have nothing to do with COVID relief or keeping the government funded.”

It was, however, Republicans who cut the direct payments to Americans from the $1,200 of the CARES Act to the $600 of the HEROES Act. Other conservative items, such as allowing tax deductions for entire business meals instead of 50%, passed through as well along with the usual military spending – all of which was signed off by Republican Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Democratic Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet shot back at the president’s threats to veto.

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