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President Biden's nearly $2 trillion COVID aid bill is one step closer to becoming law as the House of Representatives scheduled a final vote on the legislation. In advance, Democrats and Republicans jousted again over the details of the bill. New York Rep. Nicole Malliotakis joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the Republican perspective.
The House is set to pass the American Rescue Plan, the final sign-off before the bill lands on President Biden's desk.
Last night, we heard from a Democratic senator on the issue, tonight, a Republican point of view.
Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis of New York joins me now.
And, Congresswoman, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
You have said you do plan to oppose the bill, to vote against it. Tell us why.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis:
Well, I thank you for the opportunity.
And I have to tell you that, as a freshman member, one of my goals was to come here and to ensure that we provided relief to our community. But I have to tell you that this bill is extremely bloated and puts in all sorts of alternative spending that is unnecessary.
There is still $1 trillion that is left over from the previous packages that remains unspent. There's about $150 billion for PPP loans to support our small businesses. Eventually, that money turns into grants for them. There is also $64 billion that was put in to reopen America's schools, which the Centers for Disease Control says only $25 billion is needed.
So, there is plenty of money there that has not yet been spent. And our schools remain closed. This bill actually — just to show you how bloated it is, less than 1 percent of the funding actually goes to our number one priority right now, which is vaccine production and distribution.
You ask any local leader at the state and local level, Democrat or Republican, local or federal, they will tell you that that is the key to normalcy here. And yet the fact that it is less than 1 percent of this overall spending shows how much money is in here that is unrelated, number one.
But, secondly, instead of cutting out the pork, what we saw the Senate do was actually take away from middle-class families. They lowered the stimulus payments, so it goes to — if you're a single individual earning $80,000, you get absolutely nothing.
But yet they still left provisions in there, didn't clarify the bill, to still allow people who are sitting in jail as convicted felons to receive the stimulus checks. So, I still think there's like major issues with this bill.
And I think it is unfortunate the way Nancy Pelosi wouldn't allow us to actually debate it thoroughly on the House of the floor of the House of Representatives.
She gives a half-hour, the entire conference, to debate a 600-page bill that spends $1.9 trillion.
Well, you have raised several issues there. Let me let me ask you about a number of them.
Number one, in the education community, we hear from a number of organizations — you mentioned schools — that they are counting on that money, that, because of the way they're budget rolls out, they know that there is a delay in how dollars are spent, and they're counting on the money in this legislation that will allow them to be safe when they do open their doors again for in person classes.
And with regard to the vaccine money, that, as you know, a lot of this measure is all about economic relief for people who have lost their jobs or whose small businesses who have had to close down. So, it is more than pure vaccine distribution.
Well, first, with the schools, the CDC had estimated it would cost $25 billion to reopen America's school safely. The last package passed in December, they allocated $64 billion. Most of that money is still sitting there. Take New York, for example, received $4 billion, and yet our schools in New York City are not yet reopened.
I think that is part of the problem. Spend the money that has already been allocated. They want to spend another $130 billion in this bill, which 95 percent of it can't even be spent this year. So it is not for emergency reopening. That money has already been there. So, our argument has been, let's — once again today, they denied allowing us to bring up the Reopen Schools Act, which would reopen our schools.
And the president is saying within 100 days of him being sworn in, he wants to reopen schools just one day a week? That is not acceptable to most parents I represent. They want to see their children back in the classroom, and the money has already been allocated in the previous fund to do so.
With regards to the assistance for families, we absolutely need to extend the unemployment. I support that, and I support stimulus checks being returned to families who are taxpayers, absolutely.
But the fact that a single person who earns $80,000 won't get anything, and yet somebody who sits in jail will get something, that, I think, is an insult to law-abiding, hard working citizens.
And I think a number of Republicans actually were supporting that. They said it went to people who were at the higher end of the scale. So that was something Republicans were supporting.
But, Congresswoman Malliotakis, let me ask you about something.
One of my colleagues spoke to a number of constituents in your district, Staten Island. One of them, 32-year-old woman, her name is Nina Marie Serrito (ph). She's been unemployed, she says, for a year. She's taking care of two daughters with health needs, one of them on the autism spectrum. The other one had an injury.
She says she is desperately in need of the direct payment, of the unemployment that's set to expire.
And she says even this bill is not going to be enough. What do you say to her about your vote no?
Well, that is exactly the person I'm trying to help by making sure that this bill is being tailored.
My concern is that Governor Cuomo will be getting — or the state of New York will be getting $50 billion, and yet he has not made a commitment to not increase income taxes. Our mayor has not made it commitment to increase — not increase property taxes, which will be passed on if you're a homeowner or you're a renter. It's going to impact your cost of living.
I want to ensure that that money is actually getting back to the people. And that is the concern here. We should absolutely be focused on extending unemployment. We should absolutely be providing taxpayer money, their money back in the form of a stimulus.
But what we should not be doing is all sorts of other things, $3.5 billion going to the Global Health Fund to deal with AIDS and malaria. It is a great cause. However, it shouldn't be in the COVID relief package, and American taxpayers shouldn't be picking up 88 percent of that fund's expenditures.
So, what I have always advocated for was a tailored bill that helps the unemployed, helps taxpaying families, helps our small business community, the restaurants. And some of that stuff is in there. But if it was tailored and focused and Congress took the time to actually do this right…
But, by your…
… we could have spent the trillion dollars that's been sitting there. That trillion dollars should be going first. And we could be taking the time right now to make sure we did this bill right, and it got to the people, like those I represent, who are struggling right now.
But, Congresswoman, by your vote, however, these people will not get that additional aid that they need.
Well, they are going to be getting it, unless, of course, this is a single…
I mean, if you had your way, is my point.
No, if I had my way, the bill would be a much better bill, and it would actually go to address the issues that we're facing in our community. It would go to make sure — it wouldn't be spending all sorts of other money.
That's the problem. You can do all these things probably with an $800 billion bill. You don't need to spend $1.9 trillion that we're going to be now this woman, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren will be owing debt, and will be — this is — we're saddling our future generations with debt, when we could do a much smaller package that is tailored to the specific needs of those individuals that I represent and that are struggling, not doing this bloated package.
I think that's a big difference here. That's a big difference. We support tailored relief that actually gets to the people, not this bloated package that goes all over the place, including other parts of the world, and it hooks the taxpayer and their future generations for that increased debt, as we approach a $30 trillion debt in this nation.
I think we need to be responsible.
Congresswoman Nicole — excuse me — Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, thank you very much for joining us.
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