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.