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Rep. Dean Phillips authored a measure to oversee spending under the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package. Trump has pledged to sidestep it.

Rep. Dean Phillips
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Rep. Dean Phillips: "[President Trump] sure wasted no time trying to challenge what most of us Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate believe are important accountability mechanisms…"

The last federal coronavirus relief bill, coming in at $2.2 trillion, is the largest stimulus bill in U.S. history. Rep. Dean Phillips wanted to make sure the money gets used in the way it’s intended.

That’s why Phillips wrote a bill, The COVID-19 Congressional Oversight Panel (COP) Act, that was included in the final 880 page legislative package that landed on the President Donald Trump’s desk. Phillips’ bill creates a Special Inspector General for Pandemic Recovery (SIGPR) to audit spending under the relief program and a congressional oversight panel.

But even as Trump signed the overall bill, he suggested that the oversight provisions authored by Phillips could be sidestepped by the White House.

“I do not understand, and my administration will not treat this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required,” the president’s signing statement reads. Put in a different way, the White House concluded that the special inspector general’s reports would be filtered through the White House first, potentially delaying Congress’ access to oversight information indefinitely.

“I’m disappointed,” Phillips said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. “He sure wasted no time trying to challenge what most of us Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate believe are important accountability mechanisms and oversight of the most massive distribution of tax payer dollars in human history.”

How the bill is supposed to work

The SIGPR position in Phillips’ legislation mirrors the special inspector general created to oversee 2008’s Wall Street bailout: the Troubled Asset Relief Program (commonly known as TARP).

Appointed by the president with consent from the Senate, the inspector general’s authority is broad: They can audit and investigate the sale of loans, loan guarantees, and investments made by the Secretary of Treasury in accordance with the bill. They can also issue subpoenas, as well as seek arrests and warrants. The office must submit reports to  Congress quarterly. The office must also report back when any information is unreasonably denied.

Senate Democrats argue that contrary to the president’s signing statement, the position was created to submit reports to Congress “without delay.”

The second component, the congressional oversight panel, is responsible for overseeing the larger corporate bailout doled out by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, reviewing loans, loans, guarantees, and investments.Unlike the SIGPR, the panel would have no authority to issue subpoenas. TARP also had a congressional oversight panel, which was notably chaired by of now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

The language in the bill calls for the new panel to have of five members: one appointed by the Speaker of the House, one appointed by the Minority Leader of the House, one appointed by the Senate Majority Leader, one appointed by the Senate Minority Leader, and a Chair appointed by both the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, with consultation from both minority leaders.

Watching intently

Prominent government oversight advocates were incensed by the president’s signing statement.

Rebecca Jones, policy counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, said on Twitter: “Taxpayers should be furious about this … What if the statement said: “I don’t understand these stimulus checks. I don’t recognize them and so Treasury won’t issue?”

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs, was the lead author of a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Mnuchin was responsible for negotiating the Senate bill for Republicans and is also responsible for overseeing much of the bailout. In the letter, Senators requested Mnuchin take the inspector general position seriously.

“This oversight authority was critical for gaining support for your request for over $500 billion to aid struggling companies, states, municipalities, and other troubled entities. Provision of these funds was conditioned on the SIGPR’s creation,” the letter reads. “As such, the SIGPR’s unfettered operation is not only a legal necessity, but also a condition you personally agreed to – SIGPR’s structure is your structure, and it imperative that you defend it.”

On Fox News, Mnuchin said that the signing statement did not violate and does not compromise transparency: “There’s constitutional issues and we’re going to have full transparency and the way this works is we have full transparency and reporting what we’re doing to the American public.”

Phillips disagrees. If anything, he said, the oversight built into the legislation is not partisan and conservatives should have a vested interest in ensuring that oversight works as written. “I would argue that conservatives throughout the country who keep a very close eye in how the federal government appropriates and employs taxpayer dollars will be as loud as any constituency in the demand for that oversight.”

Phillips also said that, although the president issued the signing statement, it’s not clear if he’ll go through with it. Should Congress need to, he said, they will respond.

“Even though the statement was issued, and was issued quickly, at this stage, no line has been crossed,” Phillips said.

“But we will be watching intently and act accordingly.”

Comments (46)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 04/02/2020 - 11:29 am.

    How can we know if the swamp is drained if no one is allowed to watch the swamp?

    Oh…

    He’ll just tell us the swamp is drained and we can establish a new National Holiday:

    “The Swamp Is Drained Day”

    Trump Troop gullibility has no limit…

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/02/2020 - 12:25 pm.

    Nothing in the Trump administration shows any signs of “full transparency,” so Mnuchin’s words are empty.

    And Mnuchin’s word, in any negotiations, is worthless, as this situation shows: He’ll promise anything to get a deal for Trump’s public relations/re-election campaign, here using the Covid19 crisis, and then not see that his promises are kept.

    Isn’t that a definition of a flim-flam man?

  3. Submitted by Gretchen Roberts on 04/02/2020 - 12:57 pm.

    My gosh – you sure do put a negative spin on “anything Trump”.

    • Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 04/02/2020 - 02:02 pm.

      There is no “negative spin” – simply reporting the sad truth about him. Donald Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he is without integrity, honor, honesty, and insight so when he does and says things (almost daily) that reflect his failings it is not “negative spin”.

    • Submitted by Mike Chrun on 04/02/2020 - 02:30 pm.

      My gosh–do you actually pay attention to what Trump says? Well, it’s probably because you knew all along that when he was downplaying the virus for over two months it was just because he wanted to keep the nation calm. Of course, who knows how many people will have died because he was keeping us reassured. But, hey, we were calm even if testing is still way behind, doctors and nurses still don’t have enough masks, and states are competing with each other for ventilators.

      • Submitted by T.W. Day on 04/02/2020 - 04:37 pm.

        The only people who were “reassured” were total idiots. The rest of us were certain Trump would turn this into a national disaster on the scale that would pale even his incompetent “businesses.” And he did.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 04/02/2020 - 02:35 pm.

      Ms. Roberts, would you like me to list the number of people in Trump’s administration that have tried to enrich themselves at taxpayer expense? Do you think Trump himself isn’t doing the same?
      Wake up.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/02/2020 - 03:14 pm.

      Trump has declared that he will not abide by the congressionally mandated requirement regarding inspector general reports. Let’s see how that can be spun any way other than as a negative.

      We’ll leave aside the fact that the man is a known crook and grifter, and his family and cronies see the federal government as a cash cow to be milked for their own benefit.

    • Submitted by Steve Roth on 04/02/2020 - 03:31 pm.

      My gosh, there’s absolutely nothing positive about Trump – again – sidestepping oversight. There’s nothing positive about the fact – yes, fact – that Trump and the executive branch can’t be trusted.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/02/2020 - 03:49 pm.

      What spin? Trump just fails at everything. He was a complete failure as a businessman, and continues to fail as president. His only success was as a reality show host, and apparently those skills are still fooling some people.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 04/02/2020 - 10:19 pm.

      Truth bites. Facts seem to upset some, gosh why is that?

  4. Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/02/2020 - 01:03 pm.

    Well, I’m sympathetic to the Dems, but “we tried!” is not really good enough, especially when you know beyond any question that the executive is a corrupt lawbreaker, professional conman and lifelong criminal, whom Dems had impeached for abuse of power. And the Treasury secretary is about one step behind Trump. So for Dems to now shake their collective heads and bemoan that “who knew Trump would abuse his power?” is beyond pathetic.

    There should have been criminal violations placed into the text of the statute if the various oversight positions and independent reports were not timely filled or if any executive officer sought to assert “unitary executive” theory over them. And what in hell is a provision that the failed SENATE gets to select the IG doing in there?

    There should have been a provision stating that by enacting the legislation the president acknowledged that the IG oversight function was not subject to any “unitary executive” claims of supervision, and that, should such claims be asserted by Trump at any time, the IG was to absolutely ignore them or the legislation was immediately null and void, all remaining funds under immediate sequester and a criminal offense for the executive branch to further administer.

    Legislative experts should have been able to hamstring this abusive, corrupt and impeached administration, which on no account should have been treated as a legitimate executive branch.. But Dems apparently cannot learn, and now Trump will corruptly administer this $2.2 trillion[!] package to benefit his base and plutocrat supporters, while screwing the Blue states and cities.

    • Submitted by Joel Stegner on 04/02/2020 - 11:07 pm.

      Do you understand how laws are passed? Two houses of Congress and Presiddng. Phillips managed to get oversight passed through a Republican Senate and Trump signed. Of course he will try to evade oversight – con men do. Democrats will have to fight to make it real. Guys like need to support them rather than take cheap shots.

      • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/03/2020 - 10:58 am.

        This disaster relief bill will politically aid Trump (and McConnell’s Repubs) far more than it will ever aid Dems, so Team Conservative would have been forced to agree to and sign anything Schumer demanded. The rhetorical focus should have been on how the Congress cannot be expected to place any trust in a pathologically mendacious, lawbreaking president already impeached and tried for abuse of power.

        Just getting somewhat tired of hearing sad sack “I’m disappointed” when the Trump immediately announces that he will abuse his power precisely as any informed person could’ve predicted from the start.

        The best that can be said is that the autocrat has not yet actually abused his power, only threatened to do so. So as Phillips says, “no line has been crossed”—yet.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Weyandt on 04/02/2020 - 01:16 pm.

    Where could we get a copy of the final version of the bill? I won’t know what is in it until I read it and so I won’t know what sort of chicanery takes place as it unfolds over the next months/year.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/02/2020 - 01:18 pm.

    Well, if Don Trump does not follow the law, we’ll just impeach him.

    Oh, never mind.

  7. Submitted by T.W. Day on 04/02/2020 - 04:35 pm.

    More promises of criminal behavior from the Lyin’ King and his cronies. Nothing new here.

  8. Submitted by Ron Quido on 04/02/2020 - 05:48 pm.

    My gosh-a lot of you will be surprised when Trump is re-elected this November.

    • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/03/2020 - 10:40 am.

      Surprised? Hardly, Ron. Anti-Trumpites are painfully aware that under our failed constitution the (woefully unqualified) candidate of a political minority faction can “win” the presidential election, despite losing the popular vote by millions and millions. The fact that Trump has repeatedly stated that he has no intention of even making a pretense of trying to win the popular vote simply underscores the scandal of the situation.

      But that does not mean that the result is democratically legitimate or that the Trump regime governs with the consent of “the people”, now or in future. It doesn’t (and won’t).

      • Submitted by Ron Quido on 04/04/2020 - 12:00 pm.

        The Constitution is what it is. The national popular vote doesn’t matter in a presidential election. Whether you consider that a failure or not is irrelevant. Change the Constitution if you don’t like the how we elect a president. Pres. Trump won a majority of votes in enough states to win the Electoral College vote; 270 electoral votes is the winning number, not 50% plus 1 of the popular vote.

        • Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/05/2020 - 07:36 am.

          Thanks for the instruction on how the (failed) Constitution operates. It is highly instructive that you think a presidential candidate losing the popular vote yet attaining the highest office in the land is “irrelevant”. Hiding behind the hollow legalisms of the 18th Century Constitution is the current attitude of conservatives to the idea of “democracy”.

          As for changing the Constitution, that became impossible once the conservative movement came to understand that election by popular vote would mean they’d be highly unlikely to win control of the executive branch ever again. Who do you imagine would (universally) oppose such any such amendment? What else could a reactionary minority faction do?

          As a result of the “conservative” movement, the nation cannot reform itself.

          • Submitted by Ron Quido on 04/06/2020 - 09:39 pm.

            The only failure here is people’s unwillingness to accept how our presidential elections work or why each state has two senators, regardless of population.

  9. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 04/03/2020 - 09:42 am.

    There was no oversight of TARP. The first thing the beneficiaries did after recieving TARP funds was dole out billions in bonuses for executives, which the Obama administration turned a blind eye to. He even laughed about it during his National Press Club appearance after.

    That is the way of Washington left and right. There was no oversight of the trillions in bailouts for TBTF, 2008-2014, and there will be none now.

    The point is not oversight. The point is, not handing out unlimited welfare to the richest and most powerful Americans in the first place!

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 04/03/2020 - 05:41 pm.

      WHD, TARP made money for the Taxpayer in your version of the corrupt capitalistic system. Appears from your perspective that is a bad thing?

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 04/04/2020 - 08:19 am.

        https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/secrets-and-lies-of-the-bailout-113270/

        The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come

        By MATT TAIBBI

        Taibbi is one of the few mainstream writers who understand, the few billions Americans supposedly profited from TARP, is as nothing compared to the many many trillions the Fed gov and Fed Reserve have handed uot to TBTF since 2008.

        Just like now, a trillion stimulus for the little people, about seven trillion and beyond for a few TBTF banks, corporations and private equity.

      • Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 04/04/2020 - 09:13 am.

        And here he is most recently, pointing out how this “stimulus” is bailing out the 2008 bailout, creating a permanent welfare state for TBTF corporations, banks and private equity, a permanent money spigot…while it will likely be austerity and trickle down cake crumbs for most of us.

        https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/political-commentary/coronavirus-fed-bank-bailout-disaster-976086/

        “The new bailout bill, which combined with a series of Federal Reserve interventions is more like a $6 trillion rescue, is a massive double-down on the 2008 rescue efforts. This bailout of the last bailout sets the stage for permanent state sponsorship of America’s overheated financial markets….

        “The Fed furthermore announced that on March 23rd it would begin buying $50 billion in government-backed mortgage securities, in addition to $75 billion in Treasury bills, every day.

        “They’ve since lowered those numbers, but the scale of these interventions dwarfs any of the Fed’s actions post-2008. A $50 billion buying spree roughly represents as much Fed support of mortgage markets in one day as was done across a month at the peak of the last round of Quantitative Easing. Taken in conjunction with the CARES Act, the Fed and the Treasury were now positioned to become a major ongoing buyer of everything from mortgages to U.S. government debt to exchange-traded funds to corporate bonds to money-market funds.

        “The problem? A lot of these markets were already overinflated thanks to post-2008 bailouts and interventions like Quantitative Easing. We’re about to find out that the American economy has been living off dying, dysfunctional, or hyper-leveraged markets for more than a decade. The Trump administration just bought this undead economy at retail prices and committed the Fed and the Treasury to sustaining it.”

  10. Submitted by richard owens on 04/03/2020 - 11:15 am.

    Stephen Colbert interviewed the Speaker of the House.

    She told of Harry Truman’s bill that he worked for when serving in Congress following WW1. After the US paid out 15 billion dollars in aid, 116 investigative committees were formed to assess what happened to the money.

    Truman (as quoted by Nancy Pelosi) said he would rather have just ONE committee in real time to assess spending, rather than the 116 appointed after the money was gone.

    The 2.2 Trillion bill has specified the use of a Special Investigator from the GAO to keep track of Mnuchin’s dispersal of funds and to report to Congress. Does anybody remember what happened when a SIGAR was appointed for Afghanistan?

    Bush fired him.

  11. Submitted by richard owens on 04/03/2020 - 11:21 am.

    Regarding Dean Phillips’ efforts– our own Tim Walz was instrumental in getting the STOCK Act passed. Unfortunately, for those who keep trading while serving in Congress and don’t divest or create a blind trust, the law was useless for guys like Burr and Loeffler made a killing, but probably can use the excuse that they didn’t act on PRIVATE information, but PUBLIC information only a few understood.

    It’s hard to legislate people away from opportunism when that’s such a common trait in politicians.

    It was WRONG.
    But it wasn’t illegal.
    It was DISHONEST.
    But it was very profitable.

    I hope they pay their capital gains taxes.

  12. Submitted by joe smith on 04/03/2020 - 11:35 am.

    The last Obama, USA taxpayer bailout was a DC, Wall Street, Union boondoggle. I agree on overseeing the money and transparency for accountability to tax payers. Who are you going to get (that is trustworthy) to make sure the money gets to who needs it? The whole system in DC is polluted with greed and waste of tax payer dollars.
    The last thing I ever want to see again is a panel of “experts”, including our President, laughing about “shovel ready jobs not being that shovel ready”. Trump needs to be held accountable for distribution of our tax dollars, something our last President was not!

    • Submitted by richard owens on 04/03/2020 - 12:25 pm.

      As I recall, Joe, the Obama Stimulus package followed the Hank Paulson TARP, but did have a number of people trying to control the spending later when Obama took office.

      Wall Street paid back with interest, GM saved jobs and reorganized cutting out new hires from the good wages enjoyed by floor workers previously.

      The Stimulus was 1/3 tax cuts, again favoring those who actually paid the most taxes and neglected those on the margins, main street and miners up your way. The website showed the spending in each community at http://www.Recovery.gov, where taxpayers could see the amount and the projects in each state and region. Several MN highway projects that never seemed to get funded were done with the recovery stimulus.

      The amount was too frugal despite those explaining mathematically that it was too small. According to some economists, the length of the time it took to recover was longer than it needed to be had the stimulus reached more Americans.

      Maybe the durability of the longest bull market and employment run that followed speaks to its success on a macro level.

      Obama cut the deficit, but he had lots of help from Republicans who did not want ANY federal help.

      Your critique of the Obama Stimulus is just repetition of the same old talking points at the time.

      I suggest, Joe, you try to remember all the things that did get people back to work under Obama. We may never see job grow like that ever again, and we will never see Obama’s spending come anywhere close to the tons of cash Trump is burning.

      Watch what happens under your party’s “disruption” and constant fueling of stimulus and what is left when it all burns out. Your party is not doing a good job of governing on anything I can discern.

      Is your memory fair to Obama, Joe? Did you notice Trump spending was reckless long before we came upon this pandemic?

      Your party is wasting their power on selfishness and mistake after mistake in governing.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 04/03/2020 - 07:50 pm.

        No, I actually remember bailouts, Union paybacks, Solyndra and not shovel ready jobs. I am hopeful, but not convinced, that this stimulus package might actually do something. I don’t trust Republicans any more than Democrats in wasting tax payer money. I just find it very hypocritical that the Lefties think Obama package was spent well and hate Trump so much, they won’t even wait to see if it helps.

        • Submitted by richard owens on 04/04/2020 - 08:59 am.

          Trump issued a signing statement rejecting oversight.

          If I am offended by his hubris and refusal to be checked in his power to disburse taxpayer funds, that is not HATE.

          HATE is something different.

          HATE is more what Obama and his family suffered from the Confederate part of Trump’s “base”.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 04/03/2020 - 04:20 pm.

      Joe, you mean the Obama tax cuts didn’t work???

      Good to know for next time.

  13. Submitted by richard owens on 04/03/2020 - 04:48 pm.

    We should not forget: 40 Republicans voted NO on the 2.2T “package”.

    Mostly red state reps, the same ones protecting your freedom to do whatever you want while the rest of us hunker down and try to stop this contagion.

    I think it is the lack of decent educational systems in the redneck areas, but it is also poverty and racism that clouds so many minds and spirits when life itself is in the balance.

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/04/2020 - 09:43 pm.

      Perhaps some of the rednecks realize that the Federal government doesn’t have any money, not that printing it for the cause isn’t a good idea.

  14. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 04/03/2020 - 06:05 pm.

    I believe that Speaker Pelosi already has a committee to oversee the Administration and the money. Imagine if Congress would actually oversee ALL spending–now that would be something. I’m amazed that no one else has thought of this before.

  15. Submitted by BK Anderson on 04/05/2020 - 07:47 am.

    Actually, I can’t see any reason why the House and Senate couldn’t have simply had the bill set up a joint committee to supervise the $500 billion corporate welfare fund, and cut the abusive Trump executive branch out of the picture entirely. Transfer the appropriate Treasury staff to the joint committee to do the grunt work and present proposed regs/actions/loans to the committee for approval.

    There’s was simply no excuse to “trust” the Trump administration with power over $2.2 trillion in relief funds. He lost any basis to place trust in him and his corrupt regime with his impeachment and trial, which conclusively proved his unalterable criminal nature and irresistible urges to abuse his office and power. But unfortunately the Dems are not an opposition party that is willing to “fight fire with fire”, as Lincoln said.

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