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Rep. Chris Stewart calls Democrats’ $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill ‘socialist wish list’

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks during the Utah Republican Party’s state convention at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy on Saturday, May 20, 2017.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks during the Utah Republican Party’s state convention at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy on Saturday, May 20, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Rep. Chris Stewart says the massive $3 trillion coronavirus relief plan that the Democrat-controlled House passed on Friday amounts to “nothing but a socialist wish list.”

“It absolutely moves our country toward socialist principles which are very, very difficult to move back from,” the Republican congressman said during a telephone town hall meeting Thursday.

On Friday, no member of the Utah delegation, including Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams, voted for the bill.

Stewart, R-Utah, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has delayed every critical funding bill by trying to push her far-left agenda.

“Now, she is wasting more time and money on something she knows won’t become law. This has nothing to do with coronavirus. This is about pushing socialist priorities and Pelosi doesn’t seem to mind the $3 trillion price tag,” he said in a statement after the vote.

McAdams, the state’s lone Democrat in Congress, called it a partisan, dead-end measure loaded with “political wish list” items unrelated to the health and economic crisis facing the country.

“This isn’t a plan, it’s a wish list. At a time when thousands of people are sick, millions are out of work, and small businesses face bankruptcy, we should be laser-focused on a strategy that opens up business and gets people back to work while also addressing the public health crisis caused by this virus,” he said in a statement Friday.

Pelosi released the package, known as the Heroes Act, on Tuesday. The 1,800-page legislation contains nearly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments. It also contains another round of direct payments to individuals, up to $6,000 per family, including undocumented immigrants.

The bill also includes $200 billion in hazard pay for front-line workers and $75 billion for coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

The bill would require all voters to be able to vote by mail starting in November.

President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans object to the Democratic proposal, saying there hasn’t been enough time since the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed to determine whether new legislation is needed. The Republican controlled Senate is not expected to take up the measure.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the proposal is based on rebuilding “social ideas or bailouts” for entities that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

“To throw large chunks of change at state programs in the hopes that may mysteriously change is putting on the backs of people a future burden that probably cannot be undone,” he said. “We should take lessons from the past. This is not the time to go down this approach, not the time to go down this road.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said the bill was an “easy” no vote for him. He said nobody could explain why the money is needed, and “everybody knows this, we don’t have $3 trillion.”

Stewart said Republicans had no input — “zero, none” — into the plan.

“We had no idea what was in this bill,” he said, adding the other four relief packages were bipartisan.

Stewart opposes the nearly $1 trillion earmarked for state and local governments, noting the previous big relief package had about that same amount, which he said he supported.

“But this additional trillion is going to go to states that have mismanaged their own finances and they’re looking for a bailout for a problem that has nothing to do with the coronavirus,” he said. “People in Utah shouldn’t have to pay for mismanaged governments in New York or California. I just think that should offend us.”

The bill also removes safeguards in the Paycheck Protection Program that would prevent taxpayer money from bailing out Planned Parenthood and provides $10,000 of blanket student loan forgiveness for all public and private loans, according to Stewart.

McAdams said there are good things in the bill that he supports, such as more flexibility for the Paycheck Protection Program and a “fix” for the adult dependent payment gap that denied many Utahns payments under the CARES Act.

Also, the bill certainly did not need to include a tax cut for the wealthy, or heavy-handed government control of manufacturing that interferes with private sector partnerships getting front-line heroes much-needed personal protective equipment, he said.

Stewart said the bill would also let the federal government “take over” all election laws and how states run elections. It would allow same-day voter registration without identification.

“It opens it up absolutely for fraud,” he said.

“Why in the world do we think that’s a good idea to have somebody be able to show up and without proof of ID at all be able to say, ‘I’m here to vote,’” Stewart said. “We don’t know if they’re registered. We don’t know if they’re a citizen. We don’t know if they voted somewhere else. We don’t know if they voted two or three times.”

The U.S. Postal Service would get $25 billion under the bill without any reforms to make it more efficient and less dependent on government bailout as it continues to lose money, he said.

Stewart also took issue with Democrats wanting to extend added unemployment benefits. He called it a “terrible disincentive” to holding a job and said it would be unfair to employers and people who work.

Stewart said it “blows me away” that the $3 trillion price tag would push the national debt to $8 trillion this year.

“And yet some of my Democratic colleagues won’t support this bill because they don’t think it spends enough,” he said. “I just have to go ‘wow.’ I just think what in the world would be enough if another $3 trillion wasn’t.”

Like Stewart, McAdams also worries about adding another $3 trillion to the deficit.

Curtis said the Democratic proposal would dramatically increase the national debt without any corresponding offset.

He introduced legislation Friday to require that future emergency or disaster spending be offset over a 10-year period, forcing Congress to make decisions about the country’s financial priorities.

“While the CARES Act included important provisions to help our economy quickly, Congress cannot keep signing trillion-dollar checks with borrowed money, ultimately pushing the burden onto our children and grandchildren,” Curtis said in a statement.