Fact-checking Rick Scott’s claim of wasteful spending in the coronavirus relief bill

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act includes money for a bridge between New York and Ontario, and a San Francisco Bay Area rapid transit extension.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Naples, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday in Orlando.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Naples, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Friday in Orlando. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published March 2, 2021|Updated March 2, 2021

Republican opposition to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus package centers mainly on the argument that it contains wasteful spending. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Naples, picked out two examples during a CBS News interview.

“Less than 1 percent of this bill is about the vaccine,” Scott said March 1. “It’s about a bridge for Chuck Schumer, a tunnel for Nancy Pelosi. This is about paying back liberal politicians. It’s not about getting our country back to normal again.”

The 1 percent figure for vaccines is about right. The $20 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act for vaccines and their distribution might sound like a lot, but set against more than $1 trillion for unemployment and stimulus checks to individuals and aid to state and local governments, it looks small.

Scott goes a bit further and uses infrastructure money in the bill to paint most of the package as misdirected political pork. He is repeating a Republican talking point.

The legislation does include money for the examples he picked.

First, the bridge: The bill would give $1.5 million to the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. “to prevent, prepare for and respond to coronavirus by conducting the operations, maintenance and capital infrastructure activities of the Seaway International Bridge,” which connects New York state and Ontario.

New York is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s home state. And it would be easy to suggest his fingerprints are on this part of the bill, except for one key detail.

The Trump administration first proposed spending this money.

In May 2020, the Transportation Department asked for funds to make up for toll revenues that had “dramatically decreased” due to decreased traffic from the pandemic, the New York Daily News reported. The Canadians had put in their share of emergency relief, and the U.S. was going to do its part.

The U.S. side of it sits in the district of Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a key defender of former President Donald Trump during his first impeachment.

As for the tunnel, while the bill doesn’t name a project in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s California district, it does have $1.425 billion for federal capital-investment grants to mass transit. Some of that is destined for a 6-mile extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, which connects San Francisco, Oakland and surrounding suburbs.

But like the bridge money, this project also dates back to the Trump administration. In August 2019, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced $125 million for the extension.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the current bill funds the larger mass transit program, and this project is among those that already won approval. He also noted that while the transit system serves the entire region, this work takes place 50 miles from Pelosi’s district.

Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis noted that Democrats chose to include these elements in the bill, and the origins of them don’t matter.

In any case, set against the bill’s total price tag, these elements amount to a fraction of a fraction of 1 percent of the total bill.

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For context, by the House Republicans’ calculations, nearly 50 percent of the bill goes toward what they consider legitimate COVID-19 and economic relief.

Past pandemic relief bills have included both health and economic stimulus elements. Most Republicans voted for those. Scott’s record is mixed. He voted for the March CARES Act and against the December supplemental aid package.

Our ruling

Scott said the $1.9 trillion relief package is “about a bridge for Chuck Schumer, a tunnel for Nancy Pelosi.”

The bill has money both for a bridge between New York and Ontario, and for a mass transit project in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is difficult to tie them solely to Schumer and Pelosi because the Trump administration backed both efforts well before the current bill took shape.

Scott cherry-picked and mischaracterized a couple of examples of the bill’s overall spending. Even Republicans say about 50 percent goes toward helping households and businesses deal with the pandemic’s damage.

We rate Scott’s claim Mostly False.