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A massive federal spending bill passed by United States Congress on Dec. 21, 2020, was almost 5,600 pages long, so there was plenty for everyone to debate. But social media was full of misleading outrage takes, framing the legislation as a COVID-19 stimulus package that doled out foreign aid unrelated to the pandemic.
In fact, what Congress passed was a $2.3 trillion spending bill that funds the U.S. government through the 2021 fiscal year. The bill includes a $900 billion coronavirus relief package — not the other way around.
But many framed the story in reverse, claiming that Congress had passed a coronavirus relief package and opportunistically included foreign aid and other unrelated items. For example, conservative bloggers Diamond and Silk tweeted, “what does 10M dollars going to Pakistan for gender programs have to do with [coronavirus] relief for Americans?” Many other social media users posted the following meme:
Claims that Congress jammed foreign aid and museum funding into coronavirus economic relief are misleading. It’s more accurate to say Congress passed a $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill funding the entirety of the U.S. government, including foreign aid programs, national museum funding, and also a coronavirus relief package.
For example, the $10 million in aid to Pakistan for “gender programs” is slated under U.S. State Department funding in the omnibus bill, along with a number of other foreign aid programs,
The way the meme above presents the $600 stimulus payments is also misleading because it juxtaposes the sum total of aid for various countries and institutions included in the spending bill, alongside individual payments to Americans included in the coronavirus relief package. The coronavirus relief package includes $600 stimulus checks, which will be paid out to most Americans, but the total cost of these checks and other aid to Americans adds up to $900 billion.
It’s also misleading to state that the only benefit included in the bill for Americans is a check for $600. Although the amounts of financial assistance were less than what was provided in first stimulus package in March 2020, the coronavirus relief package includes expansion of unemployment benefits, another round of small business loans, as well as rent, utilities, and food assistance along with $600 stimulus checks.
Legislators complained they didn’t have time to properly review the massive document before voting on it. Some legislators said the price tag for the legislative package was too big, while others said relief provided to Americans struggling with economic fallout from the pandemic didn’t go far enough.
On the evening of Dec. 22, 2020, the day after Congress passed the spending package, U.S. President Donald Trump made a statement echoing these internet claims, raising doubts that he would sign the legislation after the White House had already indicated he would. Among other statements, Trump said he wanted stimulus checks to be $2,000 instead of $600, which U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she agreed with.
The bill comes nine months after the CARES Act stimulus package was signed in March 2020, as well as months of partisan haggling between Republicans, who wanted a more limited package, and Democrats, who had pushed for a bigger bill. It also comes amid a surge of reported COVID-19 cases amid the holiday season. More than 322,000 Americans have died from the pandemic as of this writing.