There was so much going on last week that you may have missed this stunningly clear Associated Press headline: "Republicans promote pandemic relief they voted against."
As plain spoken and to the point as that headline is, it remains understated.
Every single Republican in Congress voted against the sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that President Joe Biden signed into law almost exactly three months ago. Every single one.
But that didn't stop any of them from claiming credit for the relief back home. They issued news releases and tweeted to celebrate the billions to the nation and the millions to their districts as their "achievements."
The AP story didn't talk about Tennessee lawmakers, so we did our own checking. We'll start with our own U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, but rest assured: He was no exception.
In fact, he not only took credit for earlier schools relief (rightfully as it was left over from the previous administration when the GOP groused, but some, including Fleischmann, OK'd small rafts of help), he also went out of his way to castigate Biden for not spending the left-over money fast enough.
On Feb. 17, working up to the final passage of the Biden administration relief bill (which Fleischmann in March would spurn) he tweeted: "We appropriated $68B in COVID relief for K-12 schools but only $4B has been spent so far. Students & parents are hurting but the Biden admin continues to send out contradictory & confusing statements on reopening schools. No more excuses. Reopen the schools."
Biden at that time had been in office 28 days. The $4 billion was part of $6 billion intended to be spent right away, but the remaining $2 billion had been languishing unspent even while Trump was in office. The rest of the previously-approved schools money always — always — had a later spending date on it.
What's more, as of early March, according to CNN using data from Education Week, there was only 1 territory (Puerto Rico) with full school closure in effect, one state (West Virginia) with some grades still closed, four and the District of Columbia with partial closures in effect, four ordered open and 42 with no closure orders in effect — including Tennessee.
And did we mention that a 55% majority of Americans told Morning Consult and Politico that they wanted teachers to be fully vaccinated before reopening schools?
There's more! Fleischmann was again on Twitter on April 9 in a picture holding the corner of an oversized $679,834 check in COVID housing relief. His posted comment reads: "Great to join @TN_Housing_Dev and State Rep. John Regan [R, Oak Ridge] to award a grant to provide emergency assistance to families who were financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and are at risk of losing their homes."
And then there's 4th District U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who on March 10 tweeted his disgust about the Biden COVID-19 relief bill: "The American taxpayer will now be saddled with the burden of bailing out a handful of mismanaged liberal states. H.R. 1319 is the first coronavirus relief package to pass without bipartisan support. I voted no on this socialistic wealth redistribution package." (He voted for the March 2020 CARES Act under Trump.)
Exactly two weeks after his Biden whine, however, he jumped on board, retweeting an IRS announcement about the delivery of the third round of economic impact payments and adding: "If you have questions regarding your stimulus check you can contact the IRS online or by phone. If you need further assistance, please feel free to call one of my district offices."
Let's not forget Tennessee's U.S. senators, Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn.
On April 21, Blackburn retweeted Hagerty: "From Johnson City to Memphis, many live venues, performers, & museum operators have had to temporarily close due to the pandemic. @MarshaBlackburn and I wrote a letter to [the Small Business Administration's] @IsabelCGuzman urging her to ensure the bipartisan Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program is implemented."
In the letter, our senators said the funding was "urgently" needed. "With each passing day, more independent businesses are forced to shutter permanently or file for bankruptcy. Landlords and banks are no longer permitting deferrals and are pressing for immediate payment of past due accounts; businesses are receiving eviction notices; mom-and-pop businesses are being forced to sell. The Administration's announcement is critical to these businesses as they work to meet existing debt obligations during these unprecedented times."
Huh? The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program was established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act, and amended by — wait for it — Biden's American Rescue Plan Act. The program includes over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues.
And that American Rescue Plan Act was the same thing Blackburn repeatedly slammed as "socialism" and "a government handout to Americans that don't need it." Hagerty called it "a two trillion dollar pork-filled package."
It also was somewhat comical that just after the American Rescue Plan passed in early March, Blackburn and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee groused in a op-ed that "had the relief been based on population, like last year, the state would have received $160 million more." (You may recall that Lee said Tennessee didn't need the money.)
Of course, none of those sort of comments pass any of our Republican lawmakers' lips as they take credit for the help.
In addition to the $1,400 checks to millions of Tennesseans and the money for vaccines and vaccine distribution, Tennessee's state government received $3.85 billion in direct relief. Another $2.5 billion is going to schools, and $1.3 billion is headed to counties, $513 million to metropolitan cities and $431 million to the state's other non-metropolitan towns and cities, plus hospitals and more.
In all, Tennessee and its people are expected to receive about $30 billion in aid.