EDITORIAL: Toomey's misplaced priorities

York Dispatch Editorial Board

A much-needed, long-overdue COVID-19 relief package is headed toward the finish line in Congress this week, but not before Sen. Pat Toomey threw a huge hurdle in its path.

Millions remain unemployed, food insecurity is rising sharply and the first round of federal relief is a distant memory, but the Pennsylvania senator’s concerns lie elsewhere. Thus, as negotiations on a $900 billion aid bill neared completion, Toomey led an effort to add language that would restrict the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority.

He told reporters Friday evening the issue was his “top priority.”

Much like President Donald Trump’s insistence that a pending Defense bill include an unrelated measure to repeal an internet-liability law, the Toomey-backed proposal had nothing to do with the relief bill’s purpose of helping struggling Pennsylvanians ride out the pandemic.

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What it would have done is hamstring the central bank in responding to future emergencies (i.e., those under the Biden administration). That’s because the measure would not only have prevented the Fed from restarting existing emergency loan programs scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, it would have limited a broader array of similar actions going forward.

“According to language reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Toomey’s legislative proposal would bar the Fed and Treasury from establishing any lending program ‘that is similar to any program’ created earlier this year with money from the Cares Act,” the Journal reported Friday.

Democrats smelled a rat.

“After weeks of refusing to acknowledge (President-elect Joe) Biden’s victory, some Republicans have now decided that sabotaging his presidency is more important than helping our economy recover by insisting that any COVID relief legislation also restrict the ability of the Federal Reserve and the new Administration to help states, cities, and American businesses next year,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a statement.

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) speaks during a forum with local economic leaders and business owners regarding the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the economy Wednesday, August, 26, 2020. The event took place at the York County History Center’s Agricultural & Industrial Museum. Bill Kalina photo

Give Toomey credit for being among a surprisingly small number of Republican senators to quickly acknowledge Biden’s victory (a stance perhaps facilitated by his announcement that he won’t seek reelection in 2022). But no credit is deserved for delaying the COVID bill with this nonsensical, last-minute measure.

By Sunday, thankfully, the issue seemed to be settled, with Toomey explaining that the initial language was overly broad and would be narrowed.

Still, the agreement didn’t dim the spotlight that the episode directed at Toomey’s misplaced priorities. The impasse resolved, the senator’s office issued a statement calling the tentative agreement “an unqualified victory for taxpayers” and adding that the deal “will preserve Fed independence and prevent Democrats from hijacking these programs for political and social policy purposes.”

Most lawmakers would celebrate passage of long-delayed aid, especially amid the holiday season. Toomey, instead, tilts at the boogeyman of socialist Democrats. And while no one begrudges victories for taxpayers, it is those millions of out-of-work Americans, unable to pay their taxes, who should be the foremost concern.

Toomey insists his critics have it all wrong.

“The language Senate Republicans are advocating for affects a very narrow universe of lending facilities and is emphatically not a broad overhaul of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority,” reads a statement on his official website. “Any statement to the contrary is inaccurate.”

On the one hand, the relief package was passed on Sunday, so all’s well that ends well. On the other, this could have ended better, and sooner, had Toomey kept his focus on relief-starved Americans and waged his battle against the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority elsewhere.