- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2021

President Biden has asked what could be cut from his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, and Senate Republicans have an answer: Start with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s $100-million-plus “tunnel to nowhere.”

The relief package, which the House approved on a party-line vote on Saturday, includes money for phase-two drilling of a subway tunnel for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in the Silicon Valley, near Mrs. Pelosi’s district in California. Ground hasn’t been broken for the project.

“An earmark to help cover the cost of Big Tech’s subway construction costs has nothing to do with combatting COVID-19,” said Steve Kelly, spokesman for Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. “It doesn’t help one person get the vaccine or boost testing capabilities.”

He said the tunnel spending “is just further proof that congressional Democrats view the reconciliation process as a means to push through their wish list — which includes forcing taxpayers to pay even more for an overbudget and delayed construction project in one of the wealthiest regions in the country.” 

The Senate is set to take up the overall package this week, with many proposed amendments expected. Much of the debate has focused on a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15, although that proposal is likely to be dropped after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it’s not relevant to the overall measure.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the House package lacks the bipartisan support of the five previous pandemic relief bills.

“The White House chief of staff admits this liberal wish-list is ‘the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation.’ So much for common sense and common ground,” Mr. McConnell said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said the tunnel funding grew from $112 million to $140 million by the time the House passed the overall bill.

House Republicans tried last week to redirect the tunnel funding to pay for student mental-health programs. But the amendment was defeated along party lines.

Rep. Ashley Hinson, Iowa Republican, said the tunnel is Mrs. Pelosi’s “pet project” and called it “Washington pork spending at its worst.”

Senate Republicans also note that the COVID-19 bill contains $1.5 million for a maintenance trust fund for the Seaway International Bridge in New York, pointing to the involvement of Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York.

“The bill contains all kinds of liberal spending on pet projects with no relationship to pandemic relief,” Mr. McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor. 

He said only 1% of the funding goes directly to COVID-19 vaccinations, and 95% of the funding to reopen schools won’t even be spent this year.

“Whenever their longtime liberal dreams came into conflict with what Americans actually need right now, Democrats decided their ideology should win out,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It didn’t have to be this way. We could have built more practical policies to help the American people move forward.” 

The package also contains $86 billion for underfunded union pension fund and $350 billion for states and cities.

Mr. Schumer said he expects “hearty debate and some late nights” this week as the Senate modifies the American Rescue Plan. He called it “comprehensive legislation that will help us crush the virus, recover our economy and get life back to normal.”

“Defeating the pandemic is national priority Number One,” Mr. Schumer said. 

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