Conservative law professor stresses need for ‘oversight’ with coronavirus relief funds

Conservative law professor stresses need for ‘oversight’ with coronavirus relief funds
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce, addresses his remarks on the economy during a coronavirus update briefing Monday, March 9, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, economist/New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and other liberals and progressives have been stressing that coronavirus relief funds need to go to those who, economically, have been hurt by the most by the pandemic. But some on the right are voicing their concerns as well. And conservative law professor Kim Wehle, in an article published on May 28 in The Bulwark, asks the same question that many on the left have been asking: who is monitoring the distribution of coronavirus relief funds?

According to Wehle (who teaches law at the University of Baltimore and wrote the book, “How to Read the Constitution — and Why”), conservatives “should be apoplectic about the botched rollout of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.” And the law professor notes that “lots of money went to undeserving large corporate recipients and universities with huge endowments, a few of which have pledged to give the booty back.”

“With billions still in government coffers awaiting distribution,” Wehle writes, “it remains to be seen whether the $2 trillion billed to future generations will have a net positive impact on the economy — which has suffered a terrible shock from the pandemic and public health response: 36 million Americans are jobless, many businesses are going bankrupt, and the GDP is shrinking. The bigger theoretical problem for conservatives with the CARES Act should be Congress’ massive handoff of largely unrestrained power over $500 billion in taxpayer dollars to the Department of the Treasury.”

Wehle goes on to point out that the U.S. Treasury Department was founded in 1789 by the United States’ first Congress, noting that Alexander Hamilton was its first secretary and that it was created to “manage federal government revenues.” Wehle stresses, however, that “only Congress can decide how to spend taxpayer dollars” and that “it’s Congress — not the president — that holds the purse strings. This is one way that the powers of the presidency are kept in check.”

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Wehle adds, has the authority to “manage” federal tax revenue but not to decide what that revenue is or isn’t spent on.

“The CARES Act set up a bunch of oversight mechanisms, including establishment of a Congressional Oversight Commission, to oversee the $500 billion loan fund,” Wehle explains. “It’s the statute’s only oversight mechanism that’s actually tied to Congress, which — again  — is the place the Constitution put appropriations and legislative powers in the first place.”

Wehle concludes her article by emphasizing that scrutiny and oversight are crucial when it comes to coronavirus relief funds.

“Congress should have ensured that the congressional watchdog had an actual head before the money was sent over to Team Trump,” Wehle asserts. “At this point, all we can do is hope that the people in power will do the right thing. Needless to say, Trump continues to prove that hope is pointless.”


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