During the signing of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus law, President Donald Trump made a stunning statement, saying that he would ignore portions of the law that requires oversight of how that money is spent.
Trump’s remarks will likely open a new front with Democrats who demanded Congress oversight into the stimulus spending.
Congress and the White House moved with stunning speed to pass the massive economic stimulus, the largest in the nation’s history, in an effort to avoid economic calamity from the coronavirus.
“It is a big deal,” said Danielle Brian with the Project On Government Oversight, according to USA TODAY. “I’m hoping that, given the crisis, Congress will realize this is a line that must not be crossed.”
“Americans expect and deserve accountability for the $2 trillion coronavirus emergency spending bill, and Congressional oversight of this Administration’s handling of the funds is absolutely critical,” Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement.
“This attempt by President Trump to bypass oversight is nothing more than a corrupt power grab by an administration known for bending over backwards to shower rewards on its political supporters,” she added.
Democrats balked at what they saw as a lack of oversight provisions in the initial draft of the measure. Trump drew attention this week when, responding to questions about those concerns, he declared that, “I’ll be the oversight.” Lawmakers ultimately OK’d several new entities, including a new inspector general, to monitor the law’s implementation.
The legislation, designed in part to help businesses and corporations hammered by closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, creates multiple layers of accountability for the billions of dollars in loans, grants and direct cash that will soon flow from the federal government. The House passed the bill by voice vote on Friday and Trump immediately signed it.
Neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., nor Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., immediately responded to questions about Trump’s statement.
“It’s not a surprise to anyone,” Pelosi said of the president’s signing statement on MSNBC. “Congress will exercise its oversight.”
The coronavirus stimulus package, which will send millions of Americans and businesses direct payments or loans, creates several new oversight entities.
The law requires the leaders of a newly created Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to be appointed by the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency with the consultation of congressional leaders. The council is an independent agency within the executive branch and Trump said in his statement that requiring it to consult with Congress to fill the roles represents an overreach.
Trump said that he anticipates consultation would take place, but that it shouldn’t be a requirement.
Another section creates a special inspector general for pandemic recovery within the Treasury Department. The new law requires that person to report to Congress if an agency in the administration denies a document request. Trump said he would not treat the provision as allowing the inspector general to issue reports to Congress without “presidential supervision.”
Trump said that other provisions of the law appear to condition the ability of federal agencies to spend money on consultation with congressional committees.
Trump said he would “make appropriate efforts to notify the relevant committees” before taking the actions called for in the law but would not treat “spending decisions as dependent on prior consultation with or the approval of” Congress.