Covid-19 Relief Bill Doubles Health Care Budget — for Congress

The exclusive clinic used by members of Congress got an extra $5 million in the latest spending bill.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) receives a Vaccination Record Card after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination shot by doctor Brian Monahan, attending physician Congress of the United States in her office in Washington, DC on December 18, 2020. (Photo by Ken Cedeno / various sources / AFP) (Photo by KEN CEDENO/AFP via Getty Images)
Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., receives a Vaccination Record Card after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination shot by Dr. Brian Monahan, attending physician for Congress, in her office in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 18, 2020. Photo: Ken Cedeno/AFP/Getty Images

In a flurry of last-minute legislating over coronavirus relief, congressional leaders abandoned hazard pay for essential workers and emergency funding for local governments that may be on the brink of municipal bankruptcy.

But lawmakers did find funding to dramatically increase the budget for the exclusive government-run health clinic that serves Congress. 

The Office of Attending Physician, which provides medical services to lawmakers, received a special boost of $5 million, more than doubling its annual budget, which is currently around $4.27 million. 

The increase in funding to the OAP, if passed, is the third budget hike Congress has provided to its own health clinic over the last year. The 2019 omnibus provided an increase in funding to the OAP, along with the CARES Act, which passed this past March. 

The OAP, described as “some of the country’s best and most efficient government-run health care,” employs several physicians and nurses to provide on-call treatment to legislators on Capitol Hill. The new funding is justified by new services required for confronting the pandemic, though the office also provides lawmakers with the services of a chiropractor, on-site physical therapy, radiology, routine examinations, and a pharmacist.

The office, led by Dr. Brian Monahan, has been in the news in recent days for administering the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer to congressional leaders. The office has treated lawmakers who have been infected by the virus and provided guidance for reopening Congress after the initial surge of infections earlier this year. 

The significant increase in funding for congressional health services comes as some provisions for working-class Americans were sharply curtailed or eliminated entirely. Earlier versions of the second round of stimulus legislation included $200 billion to pay front-line essential workers an additional $13 per hour. The special funding would have provided a special boost to nurses and other front-line medical workers.

That provision did not make it to the final bill released on Monday. The proposed $1,200 stimulus checks were also reduced to $600.

The coronavirus relief legislation also contains dozens of provisions that benefit business owners and investors, including tax benefits for owners of racehorses, the full expansion of the “three-martini lunch” tax deduction for business meals, and the so-called double dip tax deduction for recipients of Paycheck Protection Program stimulus money to use tax-free grants from the federal government to reduce taxable income. 

The $900 billion bill, reached after last-minute negotiations over the weekend, includes supplemental funding for unemployment benefits and money to streamline vaccine distribution.

The legislation also provides $284 billion to replenish and expand the PPP forgivable loan program to businesses. The bill extends the federal eviction moratorium through January 31, along with $25 billion for rental assistance programs. The funding measure provides $84 billion for education, including money for personal protective equipment for teachers and K-12 schools.

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