New York Democratic Rep. Adriano Espaillat on Thursday said he’s “not comfortable” with “embarrassing” spending unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic in President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill, which is expected to pass the House Friday.
The candid admission during a CNN interview was circulated by Republicans who have been making the same point this week.
Mark Bednar, a senior aide to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) tweeted the clip, writing, “Democrat Rep admits he’s ‘not comfortable’ with Pelosi’s pet projects.”
Espaillat admitted his misgivings when pressed by CNN host Poppy Harlow on $1.5 million for the Seaway International Bridge between Massena, New York, and Canada, and $100 million toward construction of an underground rail line linking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district and Silicon Valley.
“I’m saying that any bill that has $1.9 trillion, there will be one line that will probably be somewhat embarrassing, right?” he said.
Pressed by Harlow, he said, “The answer, no, I’m not comfortable” with unrelated items.
The bill is expected to pass largely along party lines in the House, but there may be a fight in the Senate over the bill’s $15 minimum wage hike because two Democrats oppose it.
It would give $1,400 stimulus checks to most adults and extends through August a federal unemployment insurance supplement at $400 per week. But Republicans bristle at $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, contending that amounts to “bailouts” of poorly run Democratic areas, and say the fact that new school funding can’t be spent for years exposes that much of the bill isn’t about emergency needs.
“If this package was clearly about making sure that schools open, why is it that less than 5 percent of all spending for schools will only be spent this year?” said the top House Budget Committee Republican, Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, at a Wednesday press conference.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 95 percent of the bill’s $129 billion for K-12 schools will be spent in 2022-2028, in part because much of the already appropriated $113 billion hasn’t been spent.
California, which recently reported a $10 billion budget surplus, is expected to receive more than $40 billion via the bill, which Republican leaders including McCarthy say is unneeded.
Republican strategist Andy Surabian told The Post that “it is a disgrace that Democrats are trying to push through a bill where 90 percent of the spending doesn’t actually have anything to do with COVID. It is an absolute a slap in the face to everyone who has actually been killed, who have had their businesses destroyed by these lockdowns.”
Surabian urged Republicans to whittle down the bill to its 10 percent core and propose that as an alternative.
The funding for the New York bridge is intended to make up for lost toll revenue, a Senate Democratic leadership aide told The Post.
Republicans argue that any COVID-19 bill should be focused on distributing vaccines and returning people to work.
They cite concern about adding to the national debt so soon after Congress in December passed a $2.3 trillion government funding and pandemic relief bill that authorized $600 stimulus checks for most Americans and created a $300 weekly unemployment supplement.
The bill contains just $75 billion for vaccines, testing and other pandemic medical supplies. It adds $7.2 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small businesses forgivable loans for payroll and overhead. The PPP program was replenished in December with $484 billion in new funds.
Democrats hold a narrow advantage in the House and the bill is expected to pass despite misgivings. A surprise defeat would be major blow to Biden and deprive him of what was expected to be his first major legislative achievement.
Under budget reconciliation rules, the bill can pass the Senate with a bare majority, avoiding the usual 60 vote supermajority for legislation. It’s not yet clear if the Senate parliamentarian will allow the bill to include the hike in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. If that provision remains in the bill, party leaders face resistance from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
New York City is expected to receive about $5.6 billion if the bill passes. The state government would get about $12.7 billion, according to estimates released by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).