Tuesday Talk*: The Chaos Theory of Stimulus

While last week’s Trump, who always took the pandemic very seriously unlike the Trump of the week before, morphed into this week’s Trump, for whom the cure is worse than the disease as he watched the Dow and his re-election prospects tank, the Senate has been in a fight to the death over its multi-trillion dollar stimulus package. Is it a “slush fund” to corporations, as Chuck Schumer’s talking point goes, or is it the opportunity for Dems to extort a progressive reinvention of business?

What’s most remarkable about this Senate naked mud-wrestling is that coverage has been replete with adjectives and active verbs, but almost entirely devoid of substantive details. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times seizes upon this to blame the Republicans.

So what’s in the stimulus bill that McConnell is trying to ram through the Senate? It grudgingly provides some, but only some, of the aid Americans in distress will need. Funny, isn’t it, how helping ordinary Americans is always framed as a “Democratic demand”? And even there the legislation includes poison pills, like a provision that would deny aid to many nonprofit institutions like nursing homes and group homes for the disabled.

Given that this is an emergency bill to address an emergency pandemic, the choice of the word “ram” seems just a tad absurd. But while calling the Dem demand “helping ordinary Americans” seems all warm and fuzzy, unlike the evil “ram,” it’s not exactly clear what that means.

On the flip side, the Times does the opposite to the Republican demands.

But it also includes a $500 billion slush fund for corporations that the Trump administration could allocate at its discretion, with essentially no oversight. This isn’t just terrible policy; it’s an insult to our intelligence.

The fear here is that Trump, based upon all the things he’s done that the Times hates, can’t be trusted to use the corporate stimulus legitimately, and will use it instead to pay off friends if not himself. Granted, Trump has done nothing to instill any faith that he won’t abuse a discretionary fund, and one’s consistent lack of integrity has a nasty habit of biting one in the ass when trust is needed.

But the other side is that the options are either to leave discretion to Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to dole out stimulus money wisely to keep corporations, and corporate sectors, alive or . . . let them die. It’s not in workers’, or society’s, best interest to have employers go under so there are no jobs to return to, and no industry to fill functions in society, when this is over.

So is this a competition between a “slush fund” and “helping ordinary workers”? It’s all about the details, which the Times valiantly avoids mentioning beyond colorful characterizations. In contrast, David Boaz at Cato gives a bit more substance to the issues in conflict.

Perhaps most important in the current circumstances is to remember that this is emergency legislation to deal with an extraordinary and unprecedented situation. It should not become a vehicle for partisan, ideological, and special‐​interest agendas.

A Senate Republican aide says that Democrats are pushing to insert new collective bargaining powers for unions, increased fuel emissions standards for airlines, and expansion of wind and solar tax credits into the emergency bill. Democrats retort that Republicans added a provision to extend an abstinence education program due to expire. Those are all normal policy proposals in recent years.

In other words, neither tribe is above taking advantage of opportunity here, knowing that the gun is pointed at America’s head and individuals need to keep eating even though they’re not getting paid, and business, small and large, needs to be there when this is over or there won’t be jobs to return to. It’s almost as if the economy is symbiotic in nature and we need both employers on the one side and employees on the other.

But is now the time to use stimulus money to require corporations to put workers on their boards, to increase the minimum wage to $15 nationally, to impose a carbon tax on airlines? Is now the time to cut funding to Planned Parenthood or dictate how it’s required to deal with abortion?

Is this a political opportunity too ripe to waste, so as to hold up sending out checks until the other team blinks? Can we make any thoughtful determination when the media is long on cartoon characterizations and can’t manage to find any room for the actual facts over which the tribes are fighting? Is one side right, or perhaps more right, not necessarily because you agree with their agenda but because their demands are more narrowly tailored to address a crisis rather then exploit it?

It would be unsurprising if the Senate reaches agreement before the end of the day. But even then, will we know the real price of those stimulus checks?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply.

37 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: The Chaos Theory of Stimulus

  1. Hunting Guy

    Rahm Emanuel.

    “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

    1. PseudonymousKid

      Churchill said it before Rahm and even he was probably stealing the idea. Nothing is new under the Sun.

  2. Guitardave

    Funny how songs can be so universal… it really doesn’t matter which monster is making you sick, our brain-dead leaders always behave the same.

  3. Elpey P.

    A little cynical is thinking that partisans are exploiting the opportunity to push unhelpful or unrelated agenda items.

    More cynical is thinking they are doing it with no intention of success, but for the purpose of vilifying the other team for their inevitable objections.

    At this point these folks really seem to care about little else.

  4. Ray

    What are you talking about? I watched his press conference last night, and when he said, and I quote, “the concept of death is just terrible…” Well, who can argue with that. Presidential.

    Was it me, or did anyone else notice Attorney General Barr keep looking at the floor while the President spoke? And did you notice the doctor standing behind the President wearing that vacant look as he was speaking. What happened to Dr. Fauci? The President must have tasked him with something very important for him not to be present at the latest press conference. How can you dare to imply that our President is waffling on the health of the nation?

    On an aside, Governor Cuomo was very impressive this weekend. He said all the right things. Very calming. Not being cynical here, it would be great to see him run in 2024. Just compare his performance this past weekend with what we’ve seen so far at the Democratic debates.

    Four more years of this administration? Probably, but like this current health crisis, and in the words of the venerable Bede. “This too shall pass.”

      1. Pedantic Grammar Police

        Empty platitudinous crap is super-presidential! Do you think it’s easy to spew empty platitudinous crap? Governor Cuomo’s speechwriter worked really hard on that EPC, and the governor spewed it flawlessly!

        I saw a video the other day that claimed that hot air would kill the coronavirus in your sinuses. To be safe, we only need to breathe hair dryer fumes for a few minutes per day. This is obviously nonsense. If hot air killed coronavirus, politicians would be immune.

  5. Richard Kopf


    In July of 64 A.D., a great fire ravaged Rome for six days, destroying 70 percent of Rome and leaving half its population homeless. Although a monumental and cruel asshole, Nero didn’t fiddle. He couldn’t ’cause there was no such thing as a fiddle at that time. Nonetheless, Nero’s alleged disregard lives on in a symbolic sense. History has an odd way of repeating itself.

    So, I think your readers should select a modern day Nero who we can all agree to hate. So who is the modern day Nero now. Here’s a few non-exclusive suggestions for everyone’s consideration:

    1. Nancy P.
    2. Chuckie S.
    3. The Turtle
    4. The Donald.
    5. AOC
    6. The Mayor of New York
    7. Mike “the true believer” Pence
    8. Sean Hannity
    9 Rachel Maddow
    10. The Queen of England
    6. Pick another of your choice.

    The important thing is that we have someone (or group) to hate and lay blame upon for a virus that was sent to us by either the Chicoms or a fringe French political party. It’s a fun diversion and oddly productive, or so I earnestly believe.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      The only certainty is that it’s not *my* fault. I can’t be too sure about you, though. You did deny my application for a nationwide COVID-19 injunction.

    2. Skink

      Mr. Rogers and the Muppets. If just once either of them sang a “fuck you” song, generations of more capable and resilient people would be dealing with this. I have it from a leading authority that all on your list were big fans of either program.

      1. Richard Kopf


        Save for Rizzo the Rat, the Muppets are and were the spawn of the devil. And here you go for the “fuck you” song:

        1. Skink

          That was just the best. I have a thousand lawyerly uses for that vid and I’m at the career moment where I can use them with near impunity.

  6. L. Phillips

    As much as I dislike defending the New York Times, come on people. The article in question is a prominently labeled opinion piece by Paul Krugman. What did you expect him to say?

  7. Jake

    You could have selected a partisan twatwaffle of any political affiliation this morning -they are all arguing the same sensationalism in the direction that suits their biases.

    Meanwhile, back in reality, Late Capitalism is so fragile that most of us can easily remember the last time public largesse was necessary to keep our economy limping along. The stain of executives swimming in bonuses and buybacks paid for by the taxpayers while Main streets across the country shuttered will not go away.

    Therefore, strings must be attached that protect regular, working Americans without relying on trust in any individual, let alone those who have no integrity.

    1. SHG Post author

      It warms the cockles of my heart how you have let go of your hyper-partisanship in this time of crisis for the public good, Jake.

          1. Jake

            Only Bald Eagles. And I wipe my mouth with what’s left of the American Flag I burned when Trump became president.

            1. Guitardave

              Jake, if I ever make it out to cali, I’ll stop by.
              We’ll go for a cruise in my pink Cadillac.

        1. PseudonymousKid

          But what about my rights? You partisan “egalitarian” types always want to trample on my liberty and say you’re doing it for my best interests. Brother, you are as partisan as they come. Just like we all are. Excepting of course our benevolent host and his “principles” and “honesty”.

  8. phv3773

    What’s the rush with this bill, anyway? it’s early days in this calamity, and even the bright lights in Congress don’t have a clue about what might be needed three or four months from now.

    But it’s clear a big, fat bill is needed, and the quickest way to write one is to put in the stuff that’s been waiting for it to be just the right moment.

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s an excellent point. Even if we need a stop-gap measure to keep individuals and businesses alive during this forced downtime, the idea that this will somehow save the economy is aspirational at best. Who knows how long this will last or where we’ll be next quarter (or next year)?

  9. Joseph Masters

    Are you referring to short-term or long-term? Short-term, the fastest, and thus primary method to bail out corporations is through the financial sector, which had a funding crisis in the overnight markets until the Federal Reserve intervened massively. This was coupled with a vast commitment to engage in quantitative easing, which further calmed the financial markets (not stock market, mind you).

    Long-term, the question boils down to locations–not all states are under shelter-in-place orders, and even where the entire state is shut down numerous “essential” businesses are operating at various levels of capacity. Should there be stipulations that essential businesses that are seeing increased revenues, like grocery store chains, not receive part of the purported $500 billion?

    Another issue is of duration. How long was a typical nonessential corporation subjected to a closure order? Did it change to essential status during the order’s duration (many media stories indicate lobbying to change such statuses).
    What if a business or corporation operated in defiance of such an order? The list goes on and on…

    This is being written as a tentative deal between the Democrats and the White House has been reported to have been reached for an ~two trillion dollar stimulus. The composition of the $500 billion corporate bail out is describes thusly:

    “One of the last issues to close concerned $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including a fight over how generous to be with the airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.”

    Whether this manages to get past McConnell remains to be seen is a big question mark, but there appears to be plenty of appetite on the part of both parties to direct half a trillion at American corporations. But like the original TARP ask in 2008, which similarly had no strings attached, both bills were dead on arrival without specific parameters for spending such a sum of money.

    Perhaps the NYT has become overly anticorporate, though the assertion seems a bit odd considering the Times is corporation worth billions in its own right. But the claim that Democratic opposition to this two trillion dollar proposal stemmed from deep-seated animosity to business and corporations at best misleading. There seems to be little question that Democrats are more than willing to pump enough cash into corporate edifices to keep the supply side of the ledger afloat.

    The operative question seems to be a bit simpler–will two trillion be enough to rescue the economy, especially if flattening the COVID curve requires more draconian statewide or nationwide quarantines?

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