The COVID-19 Relief-Omnibus Spending Bills

By John Marciano

Why publish national and international articles in the Ashland Chronicle? Because efforts to address serious local problems are undermined when needed funds are taken to bail out U.S. and foreign banks, give tax breaks to the rich and powerful 1%, and support endless foreign wars.

We cannot solve local problems unless we think nationally and globally. The recent combined COVID-19 Relief/Omnibus bills show us there are always funds available when the powerful demand them, at the cost of pain and poverty for others—determined by dominant economic and political elites on Wall Street and in Washington.

The combined bills (5597 pages in length) were passed overwhelmingly. They laid bare U.S. priorities, with “the imperatives” of militarism and empire coming ahead of Americans’ basic needs (Grayzone, Dec.22).

The $900 billion Relief bill includes direct checks ($600 per person), unemployment protection ($300 per week), additional COVID-19 testing and vaccines, loans to small businesses to cover payroll, transportation, food and farmer assistance, federal renting assistance, extending the federal ban on evictions through January, and education and child care. 

The $1.4-trillion-dollar Omnibus Spending Bill includes the largest military appropriation in U.S. history ($740 billion), and funds friendly militaries like Egypt and Israel (overall total $5 billion). While Jackson County residents face eviction, $1 billion will go for regime change programs that will increase the danger of nuclear war with China and Russia.  

Since the federal moratorium on evictions expires in January (Oregon’s extension to July only postpones the eventual disaster) and unemployment benefits will be ending, tens of millions of Americans are at risk. One estimate suggests that as many as 40 million Americans could face eviction (NY Times, Jan. 3). That’s some 560,000 in Oregon and 28,000 in Jackson County.

A housing activist group claims that at least $100 billion dollars is needed to keep low-income renters housed during and after the pandemic—$70 million for this county alone. Why aren’t our people getting the funds Congress bestowed on Egypt and Israel, or the $6.3 billion write-off for corporate business meals?

The nature of this combined bill is clear. While the public suffers from the pandemic’s economic crisis, Congress voted for a greatly reduced stimulus package from March, and the Omnibus Bill gave a massive handout to the corporate war makers and their foreign client states. By an overwhelming vote (275-134), the House recently passed a stand-alone $2000 stimulus check bill, but Republicans have repeatedly blocked a vote on the larger amount in the Senate. Despite that refusal, 41 Democrats still joined the GOP to vote for the huge military appropriation (81-13). Merkley and Wyden voted Nay—the only two senators from a single state to oppose this obscene bill.   

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Nearly 350,000 have died from the pandemic, 72 in Jackson County. 396,000 have filed for unemployment insurance in Oregon, nearly estimated 20,000 in Jackson County. Nationally, 5.4 million have lost their health insurance coverage, almost 4,000 here (JC figures are based on percentage of Oregon and U.S. population).

A local resident accurately summarized the combined COVID Relief-Omnibus bill. “It is almost beyond comprehension.  The audacity of the Congress to pass something so egregious, so patently indifferent to the pain and suffering of our people clearly shows their disdain for us all.”

John Marciano lives in Talent, Oregon.

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