|When the pandemic began, restaurants were among the very first businesses to take a hit. We didn’t know much about the coronavirus as it spread across the world, and Americans were told to stay home as much as possible. This meant most people weren’t eating out or supporting their favorite local restaurants like they usually did. What started as “two weeks to slow the spread” turned into months and months of a lack of business for America’s restaurants and they quickly felt the effects. As a result, Congress established the Paycheck Protection Program to get relief to job creators and community staples as quickly as possible so they could keep their employees paid and doors open.
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) programs that were established in the CARES Act quickly came to the rescue for many American businesses, including restaurants. But overreaching shutdown measures and altered capacity restrictions continued long after many patrons were ready to return to their favorite restaurants and bars across the country. We were fortunate here in Missouri to be one of the states on the forefront of reopening and the return to normal life. Citizens in many other states were not so lucky, and mandates and restrictions were prolonged to the detriment of small businesses. And while PPP and EIDL were able to provide emergency funding in record time, it became clear that it was not going to be enough to save many of the eating establishments that were fighting to stay afloat.
In March of last year, the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) was created by President Biden’s so-called “American Rescue Plan” which cost taxpayers another $1.9 trillion. The general idea behind RRF – providing emergency funding for struggling restaurant and bar owners – was one I fully supported. However, as is often the case in Washington, the restaurant program was intentionally written to discriminate against certain Americans and it was included in a massive, unnecessary spending bill that even President Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, said was the least responsible economic policy in 40 years. One year later, the American Rescue Plan has proven to be a significant driver in the record inflation that is drowning families across the country.
Once developed, the RRF was operational for three weeks before it ran out of money and was deemed unconstitutional by federal courts. The courts ruled the program unconstitutional because 177,000 applicants – American citizens – were not allowed to receive money because of their race and gender. It’s hard to believe in 2022 Congressional Democrats and the Administration are still discriminating against Americans based on race and gender, but that is exactly what happened.
While the racial discrimination built into the program was despicable and the larger bill it was part of is a proven economic disaster that’s caused everything you buy to be more expensive, the fact remained that hundreds of thousands of restaurants still needed help. They were either forced to shut down by the government, or unreasonable restrictions and mandates made it impossible to operate profitably. So, as the top Republican on the House Small Business Committee I introduced the Entrepreneurs Need Timely Replenishment for Eating Establishments (ENTRÉE) Act. My bill would replenish the RRF by clawing back unused dollars from other, overfunded government programs and therefore spend no additional taxpayer dollars. The bill also eliminated the racial bias that was included in the original program so it would be not only constitutional, but fair to every American.
Last Saturday, Speaker Pelosi announced that the House would vote on a bill to replenish the RRF. My initial hope was that by some miracle, the Speaker was actually going to bring a Republican bill – the ENTRÉE Act – to the floor. That, of course, was not the case. Instead, on Thursday, the House voted on a bill to put $42 billion in the RRF and another $13 billion into yet another new federal grant program. Regarding the RRF portion, there was a notable difference between the Speaker’s bill and mine: the Speaker’s bill is not paid for. The bill the House passed on Thursday would require tens of billions of dollars to be printed and added to the deficit.
The good news is the Speaker’s bill has no chance of passing the Senate or becoming law. While all economic indications point to inflation continuing and probably getting worse, it won’t be exacerbated by the Speaker’s latest bad bill. The bad news is the opportunity to help the 177,000 small businesses that were discriminated against in the initial program was lost. The ENTRÉE Act can pass the House and Senate, and the President would sign it. But it won’t because the Speaker insists on adding to the deficit, even when responsible alternatives are available. And she refuses to allow a Republican idea – no matter how many Americans it will help – to receive a vote on the House floor.