Sounding as if he can’t believe it himself, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe continued Monday to advocate for a huge federal spending bill on Monday to ward off COVID-19 and its effect on the U.S. economy.
“It’s almost disgusting to me, to have to pay this amount, but it has to be done,” Inhofe said in a morning news conference just as it was learned the U.S. deaths from the virus had topped 500.
Oklahoma’s other senator, James Lankford, also expressed concern about the burgeoning cost of the federal government’s countermeasures.
“We’ve already started the meetings to figure out how to pay for it,” Lankford said during a telephone town hall with constituents.
Inhofe and Lankford, like other Republicans, were fuming because Democrats had blocked a bill that had grown to at least $1.6 trillion, with total cost of federal action expected to soon top $2 trillion.
The current bill also includes what Inhofe said are fixes to a measure he voted against last week. The blocked bill came the same day the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 500.
Inhofe could generally be counted on to oppose such spending. This particular bill is likely to be more than twice as expensive, not adjusted for inflation, as the stimulus bill put through by Democrats and the Obama administration during the recession of more than a decade ago, and Inhofe has never stopped criticizing that one.
Inhofe insisted there is no comparison.
“That wasn’t even a crisis,” he said.
The International Monetary Fund considers the period that began with a real estate collapse in 2007 the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
It did not, however, include a deadly virus for which there is no vaccine.
“Anything we do wrong results in people dying,” Inhofe said.
The people phoning in to speak to Lankford Monday afternoon were mostly interested in support for their local health care systems as well as direct financial assistance “to people who need it,” as one caller put it.
Lankford said he will look into using federal dollars to temporarily reopen closed hospitals, especially in rural Oklahoma, after a caller identifying herself as a doctor from Pauls Valley urged him to do so. Pauls Valley’s hospital closed in October 2018.
“If this gets into our nursing homes, we’ll have to take people to Oklahoma City or Ardmore,” the caller said.
Although Inhofe complained about Democratic opposition to some aspects of the Senate bill, he admitted they might have a point on at least one: a $500 billion discretionary fund, to be controlled by the Trump administration, that some Democrats have called a “slush fund.”
“I don’t take issue with that,” he said. “That amount might be too excessive. It’s there in case they misguessed some things or there are things we didn’t think of. Call it a slush fund, call it whatever you want, it’s there for a reason.”
Lankford said he was also frustrated by Democratic objections to the contingency fund, also known as the stabilization fund.
“They don’t object to the stabilization fund,” said Lankford. “They say they want more oversight. I want more oversight. (Republicans) want more oversight.”
But Lankford said Democrats are asking for unreasonable conditions such as a 10-year ban on stock buybacks, a $15 minimum wage and carbon neutral airlines.
Democrats, who have also accused Republicans of trying to sneak unrelated items into the bill, say their biggest objection to the bill is that the stabilization fund could turn into a giveaway for big business.
On a local issues, Inhofe said he supports Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s decision to order the city’s restaurants and bars closed and said he would have done the same thing.
“I don’t think he had much of a choice,” said Inhofe.