With over 100,000 deaths and over 36 million jobs lost thus far, the United States is suffering from the Covid-19 crisis more than any other nation. While millions of Americans are still waiting on their first $1,200 stimulus check, the U.S. House of Representatives just voted on a bill that would provide another round of checks to over a hundred million Americans. This bill, called The HEROES Act, passed in the House by a slim majority with almost every Democrat voting in favor and every Republican, except one, voting against the bill. I had the privilege of speaking with U.S. Congressman Bill Flores about why he voted against the bill. Congressman Flores is in his fifth congressional term, serving as the United States representative for Texas’s 17th congressional district, which spans from Waco to College Station.
Before diving into my conversation with Congressman Flores, I want to provide a few highlights of the HEROES Act. The bill will add around $3 trillion to our national debt clock, which is already quickly ticking towards $30 trillion. So, what is the plan for using Americans’ hard-earned tax dollars? Here are a few of the highlights:
- $1 trillion will go towards state and local governments to provide money to vital workers, such as healthcare workers
- $75 billion for testing, tracing, and treatment
- $175 billion for housing assistance for struggling families, renters, and homeowners
- Another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, with a $6,000 max per household
Republicans and Democrats agree that the American people need more aid, and this bill would save more Americans and even states from declaring bankruptcy. So why did Congressman Flores and almost all the other Republicans vote Nay? Congressman Flores told me three main reasons he voted against the bill.
First, Flores discussed how many states are yet to use a lot of the money that Congress has already given them through bills such as the $2 trillion-dollar CARES Act that was signed by the President on March 27th. He says, “Congress has already passed about $3 trillion worth of support for the American economy, and the bulk of that money has not even gone through the processes needed to make an impact. For example, we provided over $700 billion to state and local governments, but 32 states are yet to move that money outside of the state treasury. So, I think that before we put another $3 trillion into fighting the problem, we ought to make sure that the first $3 trillion moves smoothly through the system.”
Second, Flores said that “there was very little in the bill that would have actually done anything to improve job creation.” A fundamental dispute between the parties in Congress involves the timeline to reopen our economy. While Republicans are generally focused on the economic impacts of this crisis, Democrats are focused on information from public health experts who suggest that reopening too soon could prove to be deadly. Congressman Flores strongly believes that Americans need to get back to work, saying “Giving everyone another $1,200 stimulus check is not what the American people want… they want paychecks. So, what’s best for a hardworking American family right now: a stimulus check or a paycheck? I think they would choose a paycheck all day long.”
Third, Flores discussed multiple parts of the bill that appear to be relatively irrelevant to the Covid-19 crisis, saying that the bill “had all this extraneous stuff in there, such as getting rid of Voter ID. And, the bill mentions ‘cannabis’ 68 times, which is more than the word ‘job’ is mentioned.” After looking through parts of the bill, I found it interesting that multiple paragraphs were dedicated to items not relevant to Covid-19, such as allowing businesses selling marijuana to have access to banking services. The bill also dedicates $20 million to the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. While this is important, critics cite that efforts by the slow-footed federal government often result in our tax dollars being caught up in bureaucratic red tape, not to mention that the HEROES Act is meant to be about Covid-19, not the arts and humanities.
While Congressman Flores’ decision to vote against this bill may appear to be quite conservative, he is quick to point out the mistakes that the Republican-led federal government made in our response to this crisis. When I asked him for a candid judgement on the government’s response, he said that “the government gets different grades in different areas of our response.” When it comes to Covid-19 testing, he gives the government “a solid F.” Flores explained how testing in this country has always been highly centralized, and the CDC was not built to produce 100 million tests in a short period of time, saying “we were woefully unprepared for something like what we are experiencing.” Beyond testing, however, Flores believes that we really excelled in our pharmaceutical development efforts, saying that “We have seen incredible public-private collaborations, such as the National Institutes of Health working with a variety of pharmaceutical companies and vaccine developers.”
Congressman Flores also expressed concerns over our healthcare supply chain, saying that “we totally got caught flat-footed, which was partly due to ignorance and partly due to poor cooperation among the private sector, states, and the federal government. For example, in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE), I don’t think we realized how much of the supply chain we let leak offshore to places like China.”
Now that the HEROES Act has passed in the House of Representatives, it faces trial in the Senate where it is all but guaranteed to die. However, Congressman Flores told me that he believes a different bill will likely be agreed upon in the near future, saying “My hope is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi moves past this and then sits down with us to pass something that can be bipartisan. This is not a Democrat issue or a Republican issue… This is a Covid-19 American issue.” We can all only hope that partisanship doesn’t get in the way of doing the right thing for the American people.