There was one problem with the House Republicans’ bill to recover fraudulent Covid unemployment benefits that the party just couldn’t shake. But there was another flaw that was arguably more important.
The former was clearly embarrassing for the GOP and its conference. Just as Republicans prepared to advance their bill on fraudulent Covid unemployment benefits, Republican Rep. George Santos was indicted by federal prosecutors — and accused of, among other things, illegally receiving Covid unemployment benefits.
Making matters a bit worse, the scandal-plagued New York congressman is a co-sponsor of the bill.
As we discussed the other day, party leaders were asked about these inconvenient details at a press conference, and they didn’t appear especially pleased. But they went forward with their plan anyway, and it passed yesterday, 230 to 200.
Naturally, Santos participated in the vote, and despite the criminal allegations, he voted for the legislation he co-sponsored.
The developments didn’t do House Republicans any favors: What they saw as a political winner proved to be embarrassing because of Santos. What’s more, the GOP won’t get anything substantive out of this, since the bill faces long odds in the Democratic-led Senate.
But the relatively close margin of the vote got me thinking: What made this bill controversial? Or more to the point, why did 200 House Democrats vote against the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act?
The idea behind the proposal seems relatively straightforward: The bill intends to recoup Covid unemployment benefits from those improperly received them, in part by giving prosecutors more time to file fraud charges.
So what’s the problem? A HuffPost report explained:
[T]he bill would also repeal fraud prevention funds Democrats provided to state workforce agencies as part of the American Rescue Plan in 2021. … Repealing the anti-fraud money, Democrats said, meant the bill would do the opposite of what Republicans claimed ― and that it would stifle efforts to catch people who fraudulently file for benefits like Santos allegedly did.
The HuffPost report flagged Rep. Danny Davis’ remarks during the legislative debate. “These Democratic anti-fraud dollars helped the Department of Labor create an important cross-checking system to catch fraudsters who apply for unemployment in one state while receiving income in another,” the Illinois Democrat explained, “a practice for which a Republican House member reportedly was indicted earlier this week.”
And why, pray tell, would Republicans want to repeal the anti-fraud money? Because GOP lawmakers intend to use that money to pay for their anti-fraud legislation.
The irony surrounding Santos and his role in this bill is striking, but that wasn’t the only flaw in the effort.