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Politics
These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Fact Check: Rep. Budd's Claim Stimulus Contains Little Related To COVID-19 'Half True'

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U.S. Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina, center, is seen talking to constituents in February.

This week we look at a claim made by Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina’s 13th district, which includes Rowan County. In a speech on the House floor last week, Budd said the nearly $2 trillion stimulus package known as the American Rescue Plan has very little to do with the coronavirus. “What the Democrat package does spend money on is yet another partisan wish list, with about 9% of it actually going to COVID,” Budd said. “Meaning, 91% of it not even COVID-related.”

WRAL’s Paul Specht joins us to assess Budd's claim.

Marshall Terry: First, Paul, give us an overview of this stimulus plan, which President Biden unveiled in January.

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Photo courtesy of Paul Specht
Paul Specht

Paul Specht: There's a lot in here. And what we do with this fact check is sort of go through and see how the percentages come out, how much is going toward vaccine rollout, vaccine, education, even how much is going toward other COVID-related measures that deal with tracking it, testing, contact tracing, things like that. And then as we go down the list, we look at things like unemployment benefits being extended and money to help schools reopen.

Separate from that, even, we start to get into some priorities that some might say are less and less COVID-related. And that, some people might argue, includes the direct stimulus checks to Americans. And then on down the list to proposed expansions to the Affordable Care Act and so on, the child tax credit, things like that. Different people draw the lines in different places when it comes to what is and what isn't completely necessary.

Terry: Well, that leads me to the next question. Obviously, this package covers a lot of ground, as you just laid out. Was Ted Budd right when he said that 91% of it was not related to COVID?

Specht: The first part of his claim is correct. There's 9% or less that is going directly toward combating the coronavirus. As I mentioned, contact tracing, vaccine rollout, things like that. But that does not mean that 91% is not COVID-related at all. We spoke with experts at the Tax Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute — which, of course, is a little more right leaning, even — and they say that it's fair to categorize the unemployment benefit extension and the school reopening money as directly COVID-related, because if not for the pandemic, that extension and that reopening money wouldn't be needed.

Terry: What did Budd mean by what he said?

Specht: He said that he was referring to just the medical aspect of it toward combating the virus itself. But if you listen to his comments — and he posted his speech on Twitter, a video of his speech — that doesn't exactly come across. Someone might listen to him speak and think, "Oh, well, there are pet projects, earmarks — there's pork in this bill that's not related to the virus itself." And that's not the right impression.

There are things in here that some people say are not directly related at all. For instance, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget — that sounds like a real committee; it's actually a think tank — estimated that about $312 billion have, "little to do with the current crisis." That's their measurement, not ours.

But they proposed a bill that would cost $1.3 trillion and even an alternative plan that they consider more efficient — $1.1 trillion. So, that cuts out about $800 billion, so it's fair for Budd to say there are things in here that are not COVID-related. Experts agree. There are there are definitely those things.

But he's getting carried away by saying that the rest of the bill that's not directly targeting the virus is not related to the pandemic at all. Some of it is. And that think tank I keep mentioning: They agreed that the unemployment benefits and the school reopening dollars, in particular, are directly related to the pandemic.

Terry: What happens with the bill now?

Specht: Well, the House passed it along partisan lines last week. So, from all the headlines I've seen, the Senate is going to take it up this week where it's expected to probably fall along partisan lines again. It could be so tight that the vice president needs to break a tie, but we'll see. You never know.

Terry: How did you write this claim by Congressman Ted Budd?

Specht: We looked at his entire sentence — not just the 9%, not the the 91%, but his full sentence. He says there's "about 9% of (the American Rescue Plan) actually going to COVID ... meaning 91% of it is not even COVID-related." That's not right, so we rated that claim half-true. Just on balance, he got it half-right here.

Terry: All right. Thank you, Paul.

Specht: Thank you.

These fact checks are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.