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The 5 Weirdest Things Congress Shoved into the COVID-19 Stimulus Bill


Congress passed the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021’’ $900+ billion stimulus package on Monday. The new law will mean financial assistance for individuals, families, and businesses, and is meant to target some of the disastrous financial effects of the pandemic.

It’s got some help for families struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. For example, it’s giving $600 per person plus $600 per child. Suffice it to say, though,  the bill was not exactly narrowly-tailored to assisting families get through the pandemic. Here are five weird results of American taxpayer dollars at work.

1. Tax deductions for “Three-martini lunches.”

Until now, businesses have only been able to deduct 50-percent of meal expenses on their federal tax returns. Under this change, for which President Donald Trump advocated as a way to help business, business meals will be deductible from soup to nuts. The bill awaits Trump’s signature.

While some are celebrating the move, others seem less than convinced.

And still others have practical questions:

2. Funding for three new museums: The Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum, the National Museum of the American Latino, and the Coast Guard Museum.

Efforts to secure funding for the museums have been in place for quite a while, those behind them are celebrating the long-awaited wins.

Others, though, believe funding museums misses the mark during a global pandemic.

3. Prohibits “doping” in horseracing.   

In a subsection labeled the “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020,” the bill creates a committee to regulate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing.

Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr (R) sponsored the measure, and said that its passage “means we are in the final stretch of achieving the most transformational and consequential reform of the thoroughbred horseracing industry since enactment of the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978.”

Predictably, there were those who felt that horse racing regulations just wasn’t the change we needed right now.

4. Make illegal streaming a felony.

The bill makes several changes to copyright law, including one measure aimed at protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and entertainment companies.  Under the law, illegal streaming for commercial profit is a felony.

Although the entertainment industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, many have pointed out the rather tenuous relationship between this measure and meaningful COVID-19 relief.

5. Warns China against interfering in the naming of the next Dalai Lama.

Under the bill, “interference by the Government of the People’s Republic of China or any other government in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and any future Dalai Lamas would represent a clear abuse of the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists and the Tibetan people.”

Many were not amused.

There was, however, at least one decent suggestion about how this might relate to pandemic relief:

The above list is by no means exhaustive. We invite you to look over the thousands of pages of legislation and find your own hidden gems. The bill can be accessed in its entirety here.

[image via Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos