Congress approves massive corporate handouts while coronavirus aid stalls

Congress approves massive corporate handouts while coronavirus aid stalls
A handout photo made available by the US Navy shows Lt. j.g. Natasha McClinton, an operating room (OR) nurse, preparing a patient for a procedure in the intensive care unit (ICU) aboard the US hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) in New York, New York, USA, 23 April 2020 (issued 26 April 2020), during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Comfort, which cares for critical and non critical patients without regard to their COVID-19 status, is working with Javits New York Medical Station as an integrated system to relieve the New York City medical system. EPA/US NAVY/MC2 SARA ESHLEMAN HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES Dostawca: PAP/EPA.

On a bipartisan basis, Congress is moving ahead with legislation packed with tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for profitable U.S. tech corporations while a smaller but desperately needed coronavirus aid measure languishes, potentially compromising the Biden administration's ability to purchase next-generation vaccines and hampering the global pandemic fight.

Last week, the Senate voted on a range of nonbinding motions related to the United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA), which has been billed as an effort to boost U.S. manufacturing and technological development to compete with China.

Different versions of the bill have passed the House and Senate, and the two chambers are currently working to reconcile the bills and iron out specific policy disputes in a conference committee.

Where most congressional lawmakers appear to have found common ground, though, is in the realm of corporate subsidies. In its current form, the USICA contains roughly $52 billion in subsidies for the nation's microchip industry—money that would flow to companies such as Intel.

As Common Dreams reported last week, senators from both parties overwhelmingly voted down Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) motion aiming to ensure that the subsidies come with conditions, including one preventing the federal funds from benefiting union-busting companies.

Senators also tanked a Sanders motion recommending that lawmakers remove from the USICA a $10 billion provision that's likely to benefit billionaire Jeff Bezos' space flight company.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that nearly every Senate Democrat voted with Republicans to "restore a tax cut that benefits corporate America" as part of the USICA. Sanders was one of five senators who voted against the motion, which was sponsored by Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

If included in the final legislation, the tax cut—ostensibly designed to incentivize research and development—would cost the federal government nearly $130 billion over a four-year period. Intel, Amazon, and other large corporations and business groups lobbied hard for the tax break, The Lever reported earlier this month.

"At the risk of stating the obvious: Congress should not be cutting corporate taxes," Amy Hanauer, director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), said in response to last week's vote. "Corporate tax collections are much too low."

Meanwhile, despite increasingly dire warnings from public health experts, Congress has failed to approve additional coronavirus relief as Republicans obstruct and President Joe Biden and his Democratic colleagues in Congress prioritize military aid to Ukraine.

The Biden administration has requested $22 billion in coronavirus funding to protect the U.S. against a potentially massive fall and winter surge and to aid the global pandemic response, which rich nations have undermined by hoarding vaccine doses and technology.

The $5 billion in global coronavirus aid that Biden has pushed for represents a fraction of the subsidies that would flow to U.S. corporations under the USICA.

Last month, Republican and Democratic senators reached a tentative deal on a $10 billion coronavirus aid package that would completely exclude global coronavirus aid, sparking outrage among public health campaigners.

That deal has failed to advance, however, as Republicans demand a vote to preserve Title 42, a Trump-era migrant expulsion order that rights groups have denounced as both immoral and unlawful.

The failure to swiftly approve new coronavirus aid could have massive consequences for the U.S. response to Covid-19 as well as the global pandemic fight.

Citing an unnamed senior Biden administration official, CNBC reported Monday that "the U.S. will have to limit the next generation of Covid vaccines this fall to individuals at the highest risk of getting seriously sick from the virus if Congress fails to approve funding to purchase the new shots."

On Tuesday, more than a dozen Nobel laureates and former heads of state wrote in a letter to Biden that global Covid-19 funding is "mission-critical" in the fight against the pandemic, which has killed an estimated 15 million people worldwide.

"The lack of funding endangers the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world," the letter warned, "and risks the emergence of new and more deadly virus variants that will prolong the pandemic."

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