If you were to design a legislative provision outrageous enough to inspire another Tea Party-style political uprising, you would be hard-pressed to do better than Section 5111 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus-relief clunker is full of items with perverse incentives (long-term unemployment top-offs and blue-state pension-fund bailouts) and others that are just obviously injurious (a federal minimum-wage hike which the Congressional Budget Office says would cost 1.4 million jobs). But nothing quite compares to its “Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund” for the righteous indignation it should arouse in most Americans.
The provision sets aside money for a leave program that would allow any federal employee not working for the military to take up to 15 weeks of paid leave and collect up to $21,000 ($1,400 a week) between whenever the bill is passed and Sept. 30, 2021, if the pandemic has had certain deleterious effects on their lives.
Some of the effects in question aren’t entirely unreasonable. For example, you can access the leave fund while you are bedridden with the disease itself, or if you are caring for a family member who is. Others are worthy of a squint and head shake — employees could conceivably take the day to get vaccinated while pulling in a cool $35 an hour.
And then there is the pièce de résistance of these goodies. The paid leave also applies to any federal worker who “is caring for a son or daughter of such employee if the school or place of care of the son or daughter has been closed, if the school of such son or daughter requires or makes optional a virtual learning instruction model or requires or makes optional a hybrid of in-person and virtual learning instruction models, or the childcare provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions.”
For as long as schools remain closed — and remember, the Biden administration’s kind-of-sort-of, wishy-washy contention is that they should until more money is spent, even though there remains over $100 billion in unspent education appropriations from the last relief bill — bureaucrats whose paychecks are provided by John and Jane Q. Taxpayer would be able to collect from the comfort of their own homes, where they supervise their children and catch up on their favorite shows. Again, it would be difficult to devise a targeted giveaway more likely to inspire wrath and resentment.
Families across the country continue to have the costs of the pandemic passed down to them by the Democratic Party and its patrons in the teachers unions. American children are suffering scholastically and emotionally. Parents are left to deal with both of these heartbreaking consequences, as well as the practical problem of where their kids are supposed to be during the typical workday.
The Biden administration proposes not to put an end to this inequitable cost distribution, but to provide 15 weeks of paid vacation time to any member of another core Democratic constituency whose kids have the option of attending school virtually. After all, there is no time like a pandemic to encourage federal workers to take a holiday.
Not only is this a manifestly unjust and ill-advised addition to an already unjustifiable boondoggle, it has the potential to extend the school closures by creating a new group of people with more than a little motivation to advocate a delay to in-person instruction.
In many ways, the Emergency Federal Employee Leave Fund is perfectly representative of the American Rescue Plan as a whole. Both are best understood not as measures designed to provide much-needed relief to those hit hardest by the pandemic and pull a weary people across the finish line of this long year — but an opportunity to squeeze every last opportunity this crisis provides to hand out treats to the Democratic Party’s favorite interest groups: teachers unions, bureaucrats and the hapless incompetents running Illinois.
We live in an angry time. The self-interested behavior of many in our governing class — Democrats and Republicans alike — during the coronavirus crisis has served only to make it angrier. If the American Rescue Plan Act passes with this provision included, though, it may be evidence we’re not nearly angry enough.
Isaac Schorr is an Intercollegiate Studies Institute fellow at National Review, from which this column was adapted.