Below is an opinion column by Senator Roger Wicker:
After a year of economic uncertainty, America received some encouraging news from the Congressional Budget Office this month. This non-partisan agency projected that our economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year, even without new stimulus from Congress. This report indicates that the foundations of our economy remain strong and that workers can expect more opportunity as vaccines reach more Americans. This positive forecast calls into question President Biden’s case for a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which he says is necessary to jumpstart our economy.
Over the past year, Congress has approved $4 trillion in COVID-related relief to workers, families, and vulnerable sectors of our economy. Over $1 trillion of this money still remains to be distributed, making Mr. Biden’s proposal premature. The President’s plan also contains a number of wasteful priorities that do not address the nation’s most pressing needs.
Biden’s Bill Pushes Partisan Agenda
Republicans have proposed a new round of cash payments targeted for those who are most in need. Many Americans who would receive checks under President Biden’s proposal, however, have not missed a paycheck during this crisis. These massive payments would add to the mountain of debt that our children and grandchildren will have to repay. In addition, the President’s proposal would use taxpayer dollars to bail out pension funds in poorly-run states like Illinois. It would allow union-controlled school districts, such as those in Chicago and Los Angeles, to receive billions in aid without reopening classrooms. And it would allow Planned Parenthood affiliates—which previously had been barred from COVID relief funds—to receive taxpayer-funded aid.
In another troubling development, Democrats are getting behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Although this might bring a pay raise to some, it would devastate small businesses and result in many Americans losing their jobs or having reduced work hours. The Congressional Budget Office projects that a $15 minimum wage would cost the nation 1.4 million jobs, and the Heritage Foundation has estimated Mississippi would lose more than 120,000 jobs.
Restaurants in particular would be devastated by this policy. The food service industry has already suffered roughly one out of four job losses from the pandemic. Many restaurants are now hanging by a thread, and this proposal could wipe them out for good. Now is the worst possible time to impose such a heavy burden on our small businesses.
America Needs Targeted Relief
Instead of undermining job creators and spending unnecessary trillions, Congress should play a constructive role by sending relief where it is actually needed. Last year, I introduced the RESTAURANTS Act to create a fund to help independently-owned restaurants survive the COVID-19 crisis. Congress recently adopted the outline of this proposal by an overwhelming vote of 90-10. This measure will extend a critical lifeline to struggling restaurants across America.
The more modest and targeted Republican plan would include new funding for vaccine development and distribution, as well as replenishing the Paycheck Protection Program, which has helped many small businesses stay afloat during this crisis. Above all, Congress needs to focus on helping rather than undermining our recovery. All five COVID bills last year were passed with near-unanimous bipartisan support. I hope President Biden will back away from his partisan proposal and make good on his pledge to work with Republicans to meet our nation’s needs.