Congress: No Money for COVID Relief, But $740 Billion for War

Last night, the House and Senate left town, with no deal in sight for COVID relief despite the uptick in COVID cases, COVID deaths, evictions, unemployment, and overall economic insecurity.

Among the key sticking points are the Republican ask for a liability shield so that companies that endanger their workers can get off scot-free and the Democratic asks for money for state and local governments (to avoid the mass layoffs and cuts that could create a double-dip recession) and the continuation of more robust unemployment benefits.

In other words, Congressional Democrats want a relief bill to help more people. Republicans want a bill that helps fewer people and further entrenches the power of bosses over workers.

But although they disagree here, both Democrats and Republicans found a place for agreement: authorizing $740 billion in military spending in the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act. This includes $69 billion for the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which operates as a slush fund.

To put $69 billion in context, it’s about the same as the total budgets of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and of the Department of the Interior combined.

US military spending is three times that of China and ten times that of Russia — and all this for a department (the Pentagon) that has never successfully completed an audit.

Donald Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA, not because it is a gross misallocation of federal funds and perfect example of misplaced priorities but because it would remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases.

The House passed the NDAA by a vote of 335 to 78; the Senate, 84–13.

In each case, the opposition was split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans (40 Republicans, 37 Democrats, 1 Independent — and then 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats).

The six senators in the Democratic Caucus who voted NO were Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The 37 Democrats in the House who voted NO were the following:

Trump’s opposition to the NDAA for all the wrong reasons inspired an increase in Republican opposition to the NDAA. Last year, only 6 House Republicans voted NO.

Democratic opposition ticked downward from 41 to 37. As commonly happens, this wasn’t just a simple loss of 4.

Nanette Barragán and Jose Serrano had been absent for last year’s vote. Suzanne Bonamici, Boyle, Carolyn Maloney, and Gwen Moore voted yes last year and now voted no.

Karen Bass (CA-37), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Danny Davis (IL-07), Pete DeFazio (OR-04), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Paul Tonko (NY-20) voted no last year but flipped to yes. Eliot Engel (NY-16), who voted no last year (likely because of his primary challenge), voted present.

Senate opposition also increased overall, from 8 to 13. On the Democratic side, Booker, Sanders, and Warren had been absent last year due to the presidential primary. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) had voted no last year but voted yes this week.

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