In the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Congress Passes the Most Expensive Single Spending Bill in American History

Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (HR 266) – This is a multilayered legislative bill divided into four distinct sections. Phase 1 authorized funding for coronavirus preparedness and response; specifically, for measures such as vaccine development and public health funding. Most of the money was allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services. Approximately 81 percent of funds were allocated domestically, with the other 19 percent allocated internationally.

Phase 2 allocated $104 billion for three specific objectives: 1) Require private health insurance plans and Medicare to cover COVID-19 testing; 2) Expand unemployment insurance by $1 billion and loosen up eligibility requirements; 3) Provide for paid sick leave at an employee’s full salary, up to $511 per day, and paid family leave at two-thirds of a worker’s usual salary.

Phase 3 provided stimulus checks to individuals and “grants” to small businesses meeting specific criteria, such as keeping employees on the payroll for two months. This phase of the bill represents by far the most expensive single spending bill ever enacted in American history, at about $2.2 trillion.

And finally, the last phase of the bill provided funding to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses and shore up public health measures, such as virus testing and hospital funding. The bill was signed into law by the president on April 24.

VA Tele-Hearing Modernization Act (HR 4771) – This bill amended previous guidelines to allow appellants to appear in cases before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals by picture and voice transmission from locations outside the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill was introduced by Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC) on Oct. 21, 2019, and signed into law by the president on April 10.

Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act of 2020 (S 3607) – Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), this bill was introduced on May 5 and passed in the Senate on May 14. The legislation is designed to extend death benefits to public safety officers whose deaths are caused by COVID-19, and for other purposes. The bill is currently under consideration in the House.

Law Enforcement Suicide Data Collection Act (S 2746) – Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced this legislation on Oct. 30, 2019. The act would require the director of the FBI to provide information on suicide rates in law enforcement, and for other purposes. It was passed in the Senate on May 14 and is currently being considered by the House.

HEROES Act (HR 6800) – This bill was introduced on May 12 by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, this bill is designed to provide emergency supplemental appropriations for a variety of applications, including assistance to state, local, tribal and territorial governments; further, expand paid sick days, family and medical leave; unemployment compensation; nutrition and food assistance programs; housing assistance; payments to farmers; and the Paycheck Protection Program. It also outlines several potential tax credits and deductions and requires employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans. The House passed this bill on May 15; it is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Blocking Robocalls, Stepping Up Suicide Prevention for Vets, and Appropriating Funds for a New Space Force

Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (S 151) – Approximately 58.5 billion robocalls were made in the United States last year, a 22 percent increase over 2018. That works out to an average of 178.3 robocalls per person, per year. Perhaps it’s no wonder then that this law was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress. The legislation requires that phone companies ensure all calls come from real numbers, do not charge extra to block robocalls, and authorize government regulators to punish scammers with fines of up to $10,000 per call. This legislation was sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ); it was signed into law by the president on Dec. 30, 2019.

Building Blocks of STEM Act (S 737) – This bill modifies National Science Foundation (NSF) grant programs that support STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to promote the role of teachers and caregivers in encouraging participation by female students in STEM activities. Specifically, the bill authorizes the development of gender-inclusive computer science enrichment programs in pre-kindergarten through elementary school. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). It was introduced on March 11, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Dec. 24.

Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act (HR 2333) – This legislation requires the Government Accountability Office to report on the responsibilities, workload, training and vacancy rates of suicide prevention coordinators. The bill responds to reports that coordinators are overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities, particularly in light of the recent increase in veteran suicides. The Act was introduced on April 18, 2019, by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY); it passed the House in May, the Senate in December and was signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.

Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (HR 1865) – This annual appropriations bill sets government spending limits for the current fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2019, through Sept. 30, 2020). Among a myriad of provisions, the bill extends funding for various health-related programs; deters pharmaceutical companies from blocking lower-cost generic alternatives from entering the marketplace; and repeals the Cadillac tax on expensive employer plans, the medical device excise tax, and the health insurance fee that was initially imposed by the Affordable Care Act. The final version of the bill was passed by the House and Senate in mid-December and signed by the president on Dec. 20, 2019.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – This $738 billion defense bill authorizes fiscal year 2020 appropriations and policies for the Department of Defense. Provisions include authorization for a sixth, stand-alone branch of the U.S. military service (Space Force); guaranteed 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers; a 3.1 percent pay raise for active-duty personnel; allows for Liberian nationals living in the United States under Deferred Enforced Departure to apply for permanent residency; funding for improvements to military housing and health care; funding to purchase 60 F-35s for the Air Force; and a dictate that prohibits Turkey from participating in the F-35 program as long as it maintains a Russian-made missile system. Note that passage of this bill does not provide budget appropriations, which is authorized in subsequent legislation. This bill was passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 17, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019.

FUTURE Act (HR 5363) – This bill permanently authorizes funding for historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, and increases appropriations for Pell Grants. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) on Dec. 9, 2019, passed in both the House and Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and signed into law on Dec. 19, 2019.

Fighting Foreign Terrorism on Homeland Soil, Increased Protections for Clean Water and Low-Income Veterans, and New Appropriations for FY2020

Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel Exercise Act of 2019 (HR 1590) – This bill promotes the identification and determent of terrorist activity from reaching the homeland, and enhances the United States government’s ability to respond to terrorism, including emerging threats. Specifically, the legislation requires the Department of Homeland Security to develop and conduct exercises related to foreign terrorism, including the National Incident Management System, National Response Plan, and other related plans and strategies. The legislation was introduced on March 7 by Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS). The president signed the bill into law on Oct. 9.

Alaska Remote Generator Reliability and Protection Act (S 163) – This bill is designed to prevent catastrophic failure or shutdown of remote diesel power engines due to emission control devices in remote areas of Alaska. It instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revise particulate matter emissions standards for nonemergency stationary diesel engines, and to report on methods for assisting these areas in meeting specified energy needs. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on Jan. 16 and signed into law by the president on Oct. 4.

A bill to permit States to transfer certain funds from the clean water revolving fund of a State to the drinking water revolving fund of the State in certain circumstances, and for other purposes (S 1689) – Introduced on May 23 by Rep. Cory Booker (D-NJ), this legislation was enacted on Oct. 4. The bill empowers states with the ability to transfer up to 5 percent of federal grant funds from its clean water fund to its drinking water fund to help address any threats to public health resulting from increased exposure to lead in drinking water. This reallocation is available for only one year.

Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2019 (HR 1058) – This legislation reauthorizes the previous Autism CARES Act of 2014 to expand government programs to include older people with autism who are often misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed. The bill allocates $1.8 billion in funding for autism programs to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and the Health Resources & Services Administration. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). It was introduced on Feb. 7 and signed into law by the president on Sept. 30.

Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2019 (HR 4285) – This legislation reauthorizes funding for programs and services at the Veterans Administration, which were set to expire at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The bill extends funding for two specific programs. 1.) Keeping Our Commitment to Overseas Veterans Act of 2019, to keep the VA Regional Office and Outpatient Clinic in Manila, Philippines, open for business through Sept. 30, 2020. This clinic provides healthcare, benefits and services to thousands of U.S. veterans living in the Philippines. 2.) Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (through Sept. 30, 2021), which provides grants for supportive services to assist very low-income veterans and their families who are either residing in permanent housing or transitioning from homelessness. The bill was introduced on Sept. 11 by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) and was signed into law by the president on Sept. 30.

Continuing Appropriations Act, 2020, and Health Extenders Act of 2019 (HR 4378) – Known as a continuing resolution (CR), this bill prevents a government shutdown by continuing fiscal year 2020 appropriations to federal agencies through Nov. 21. The bill was introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) on Sept. 18 and signed into law on Sept. 27.

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (S 1790) – Introduced on June 11 by Rep. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), this is an original bill that authorizes U.S. Military appropriations for fiscal year 2020 for the Department of Defense, military construction and Department of Energy defense activities. The legislation both authorizes appropriations and sets forth policies, requirements and limitations for how funds are used. The legislation was passed by Congress on Sept. 17 and is currently awaiting signature by the president.

Extending Medicaid Funding, the Debt Limit, Membership into the American Legion, and Support For 9-11 Victims, Law Enforcement Officers, and Breastfeeding Moms

Sustaining Excellence in Medicaid Act of 2019 (HR 3253) – This bill authorizes appropriations through fiscal year 2024 and makes changes to several Medicaid programs and funding mechanisms. Some of the provisions include allowing state Medicaid fraud control units to review complaints regarding noninstitutionalized patients; temporarily extending Medicaid eligibility to protect against spousal poverty for recipients of home and community-based services; repealing the requirement for drug manufacturers to include the prices of authorized generic drugs when determining the average manufacturer price (AMP) of brand name drugs; and excluding manufacturers from the definition of “wholesalers” for purposes of rebate calculations. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI). It was introduced on June 13 and signed into law by the president on Aug. 6.

Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019 (HR 3877) – Introduced on July 23 by Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), this legislation amends the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to temporarily suspend the public debt limit through July 31, 2021, and establish a congressional budget for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. Among other provisions, the bill sets limits for Overseas Contingency Operations funding and requires fiscal year 2020 discretionary spending limits to reflect specified funding for the 2020 Census. The bill was signed into law by the president on Aug. 2.

Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act (HR 1327) – This bill extends authorization for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund through 2090. It was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on Feb. 25 and signed into law by the president on July 29.

LEGION Act (S 204) – This bill was introduced on Feb. 14 by Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ). It authorizes the extension of membership into the American Legion to all military personnel who served during unrecognized war eras that involved active military personnel. The president signed the bill into law on July 30.

Fairness For Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019 (H.R. 866) – This legislation mandates that federal buildings establish a separate room (other than a bathroom) for breastfeeding mothers to be consistent with laws that make such requirements for all employers with 50+ employees and all large- and medium-sized airports. The bill was introduced on Jan. 30 by Rep. Eleanor Norton (D-DC), passed in the House in February and the Senate in June, and was enacted by the president on July 25.

Supporting and Treating Officers in Crisis Act of 2019 (S. 998) – This bill was introduced by Sen. Joshua Hawley (R-MO) on April 3. It was passed in the Senate in May and by the House in July and signed into law by the president on July 25. The legislation amends the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to offer additional support for law enforcement officer family services, stress reduction, suicide prevention and other purposes.