Columns

Don’t Bail Out Billionaires Musk and Bezos in Coronavirus Relief Bill

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration on Sept. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Can Congress get any worse? Americans are facing unprecedented uncertainty over our jobs, our homes our futures and our way of life and Washington just keeps finding ways to make the bad days worse. Our so-called elites may be misjudging the anxiety and anger that are building across the country. This is not a time for normal politics or the usual capitol games. The spectacle of the very wealthy and out-of-touch Democrat Nancy Pelosi waltzing back to D.C. from a week-long vacation — taken during a week millions of us went into teleworking if we were lucky and unemployment if we’re not — only to scuttle the relief bill by packing it with left-wing pet projects, ought to stick in the memory forever.,

As Senate staffers shuffled out of the Capitol on Sunday night without a deal on coronavirus aid, many on the Hill wondered if the bipartisan bill would face a final hurdle too steep to climb. Could tireless work be derailed at the 11th hour by the escalating partisan waves engulfing both caucuses?   

As the hours progress in negotiations, and may stretch into days, many senators – those who haven’t been forced to quarantine – lobbied for ever-expanding bailouts of nearly every interest group that has a presence in D.C. The list is as outrageous as anything to come from Congress in years. The Democrats tried to pack parts of the destructive Green New Deal, sops for Planned Parenthood and Big Labor, with no regard for what Americans in flyover country really need. While no one would doubt the devastating effects our nation’s small businesses have faced, two of the world’s wealthiest people, billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, have also tried to use this pandemic to cash in off the American taxpayer through their lobbying arm.      

Bezos, the world’s richest man and owner of Blue Origin, and Musk, the billionaire who got rich from government subsidies, may receive even more government handouts thanks to their trade association’s attempt to exploit the coronavirus crisis. This comes just a week after Musk’s SpaceX asked the federal government for $16 billion in subsidies to continue with planned initiatives. Clearly that wasn’t enough.    

In a letter to congressional leaders, the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which lobbies for both billionaires, asked that the coronavirus aid bill include provisions to give over $5 billion in aid to prop up SpaceX and Blue Origin, among others. I am a big fan of commercial spaceflight. It’s the future. But do we really need to hand taxpayer cash to support them when we’re losing Main Street restaurants and bars and other businesses nationwide, hour by hour? As millions across this country lose their jobs, retirement savings, and even their loved ones, it’s disgusting that two men whose net worth equates to $140 billion (equivalent to the GDP of Kuwait) believe that American taxpayers should prioritize their rocket ventures over the health and safety of our communities.    

It’s hard to find rational justification for the federal government bailing out venture capitalist endeavors like these billionaires’ spaceship companies. Congress has had a hard enough time finding money for unemployment support; they shouldn’t waste resources on those least needy. There should be no need for a bailout when both men are already so well off.  Neither will miss a mortgage or rent payment anytime soon.     

If you took the estimated $1 trillion the federal government looks poised to spend in this new bill, it would account for nearly five percent of the national GDP. If Bezos and Musk used five percent of their wealth, it would more than cover the taxpayer funds they are requesting. Seeing as the average American is forced to spend over 50 percent of their monthly income on bills like rent and healthcare, I think it’s safe to say their need is much greater than the billionaires’.     

Let’s make one thing clear: no one is arguing against the space industry or these two billionaires’ ventures into it. I spent eight years at NASA myself and strongly support both Bezos’ and Musk’s ambitions in commercial spaceflight. The fact is, America needs to reclaim our space dominance and the private sector is key to our success. Emphasize private sector in that, not whatever Frankenstein taxpayer-funded thing Musk and Bezos are angling for. But at a time when health officials are worried about shortages of critical medical supplies (and Musk showed his total disconnection from the crisis, before coming around), Congress cannot afford to direct funds away from those who need it.     

With the pressure billionaire interest groups like this one have put on congressional leaders to help fill their pockets, is it any surprise that the negotiations broke down? There was genuine bipartisan support for getting a bill done as soon as possible, with even Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer initially working together to find workable solutions to the partisan differences. But alas, the pressures of special interest groups looking to raid the Treasury proved too strong for our representatives to overcome. 

A bill will still get done, at some point. But at what cost? Will we have to see Congress pass it before we find out what’s in it? As pressure from the likes of Musk and Bezos keeps Congress from passing the relief bill, countless Americans’ lives are put at risk as the stalemate continues. Congress must stand up to these billionaires who feel that they’re entitled to taxpayers’ funds.