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GOP Rep. Mace Says COVID-19 Relief Plan Is A Spending Spree

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Our next guest has some issues with the Biden administration relief package. Congresswoman Nancy Mace is a freshman Republican from South Carolina. And she's on the line with us. Congresswoman, thanks so much for being here.

NANCY MACE: And thank you for having me today.

MARTIN: What is your biggest objection to the relief bill?

MACE: Well, this isn't a COVID relief package. This is a $1.9 trillion spending spree. And when we - I'm a single working mom. And when we talk about wanting to lift people out of poverty, when we talk about wanting to put food on the table, the very - one of the very top things that should be a priority for the administration is to, perhaps, allow parents to send their kids to school, particularly those who are in poverty, because the best thing we can do for those children is to help them get educated. These are children who rely on public school for their food, oftentimes, for their meals throughout the day. And the second thing that we could be doing is encouraging and making sure that democratic states allow companies to carefully and safely reopen their businesses and to operate. We're seeing successes in, like, my home state where - of South Carolina, where the unemployment rate is hovering just over 4% right now because we've been very cautious, putting precautions and safety mechanisms in place in our businesses. But we're still open. We're being safe. But this package, 1% of it's going to vaccinations.

MARTIN: So let's talk about a few of the issues you brought up. First, I want to address the school reopening issue. There is an additional $128 billion in this relief plan - is there not? - for K-12 schools to reopen?

MACE: Right. Well, in the last COVID package, we sent out $68 billion - this is back in December - for public schools to expedite reopening. And only 4 billion of those dollars have been spent. So we're spending even more money on an issue that the original funding never even got spent. And we're doing this over and over again in this package.

MARTIN: So I have to just clarify. Those numbers are up for debate. I mean, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan group, says that there is $1.3 trillion from the last relief package that is allocated. So it's not yet been spent. Correct. But it has been tagged.

MACE: Right.

MARTIN: And those funds won't get through the system until at least fall of 2022.

MACE: Right. Right. And we're in this crisis right now. And that's one of the issues. And, you know, there's other - you know, some of the examples of waste that we see - and it doesn't matter if you have an R or a D by your name. I think most Americans who pay taxes in this country want the federal government to spend their dollars judiciously. They want us to, you know, be responsible with them. But we're talking about over $100 million for funding a public transit system in Nancy Pelosi's backyard. That doesn't have anything to do with the millions of Americans who are out of work, the millions of children who are out of school and millions of people that are desperate to get a vaccination. And I wholeheartedly support a package that is going to be very targeted. Even in this package still today, we have - you know, I don't think if you're making $75,000 a year and you haven't had wages go down because of COVID-19 that you don't - you shouldn't be supplemented by the federal government. You're making a great wage. And...

MARTIN: So let's talk about where you do see the federal government's role in spending money. Sounds like you do want money spent to reopen schools because you need money to hire more teachers, expand classroom size, social distance, et cetera...

MACE: And the safety precautions, right...

MARTIN: Right.

MACE: ...That we want to have in place. Kids in masks, washing hands - all those things need to be put in place.

MARTIN: So you approve of more spending on education funding. What about the child poverty issue? Rosa DeLauro plan to give families $300 per child per month. Is that something you could support?

MACE: No, it's not. In fact, I'm actually working on an issue related to that because there are many families who lost work, lost wages or couldn't go back to work because their kids are doing home schooling. And so their child care costs have also gone up. And finding a way that is not universal basic income or anything related to that, but giving them a tax credit, being able to write off those expenses. But again, that's another reason why parents should have the option of sending their kids to school, whether that's two days a week, five days a week, in the middle of the pandemic so they can get back to work, earn a wage, not have to rely on unemployment or any type of semi-universal basic income. People in this country, they want to be able to earn their success through their work. And...

MARTIN: But...

MACE: ...I think it's really important that we give them the tools to be successful in every way possible.

MARTIN: Understood. But the pandemic, you know, has exacerbated the poverty issue for many families.

MACE: Yeah, it really has.

MARTIN: But it preexisted the pandemic. And so the Democrats would argue that it's going to take a huge push of federal funding to break what has been an intractable cycle of poverty and child poverty in particular.

MACE: Again, another reason why schools should be open, why we should be encouraging that. I know in my district COVID-19 is one half of 1% to 0.9% of all students who are in school five days a week. And so we need to make...

MARTIN: But it's not the end all, be all, right? Like, kids need to be in school...

MACE: It's not the end all, be all. But that's the place to start. I mean, if we're talking about long-term change, long-term improvements, pre-COVID-19, we had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. In my district, it was 1.86%. If you were working at a fast-food franchise, you were making $15 an hour and about to get a raise. You didn't need the federal government mandating it because the economy was so good. But there are ways - if we're talking about a COVID relief package, then it should be targeted to those people who lost their jobs, who lost income, lost wages due to COVID-19 and not be sent to every person in this country. I think most people...

MARTIN: So you're against the direct payments then? You don't want...

MACE: Right. I want it to go - I want this - I think you could do more with less. I think some people could even get larger checks who've had - who've been more negatively impacted financially than give a check to everybody. I think most people would agree with that.

MARTIN: I want to ask you - you're saying more needs to be done, clearly, to reopen schools. So what's the state of South Carolina doing?

MACE: Well, I mean, we're open. I mean, we - our unemployment rate, as I just mentioned a few moments ago, is hovering just over 4%. Now, my particular district has been hard hit. The travel industry, hospitality, restaurants, tourism has been the hardest hit in my district. And so it's a little bit worse where I am because of that. But by and large, when you put safety precautions in place, whether that's in the business or in schools, people can continue to earn a living, put a roof over their head, food on the table, gas in the tank, kids in school. It can be very cautiously done. And that's what we should be focused on, helping millions of people who are hurting and are in significant financial pain right now.

MARTIN: Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina. I look forward to continuing the conversation at another time. We appreciate you coming on. Thank you.

MACE: Of course. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKEY INSPIRED'S "CHILL DAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.