House Democrats passed their next coronavirus stimulus package over 2 months ago. The Republican Senate got around to it last week. If that was all I knew about the negotiations between them and the Trump White House that would be enough. But of course, there’s more: the Republican Party’s proposal is wanting and emphasizes issues that are either inadequate or nonexistent.
However wrong I think they are, they are still one of the two major parties that have significant – though disproportionate – power in American government. They have a say in what will go in the final bill, however misguided they may be. The Republican’s coronavirus stimulus package is oblivious to our current reality and would do much harm to so many Americans who are struggling today.
Here’s what I mean.
Unemployment Insurance ≠ Freeloaders
Under the current unemployment insurance (UI) expansion from the CARES Act, unemployed Americans received an extra $600 per week in addition to the amount states pay. It lapsed last week – to our economic detriment. This was much-needed relief for families. The pandemic shut down not just sectors of the economy, but entire states and regions. This support allowed people to stay home, keep themselves and their families safe, and help prevent COVID from spreading. They needed this relief – they still do. But the Republican Party is locked in a worldview that runs counter to these assistance programs.
Even before the CARES Act was signed into law in March, GOP Senators objected to the enhanced unemployment benefits. They said that recipients would actually gain more money in UI than they would in their jobs. To Republicans, this creates an incentive for Americans to stay on unemployment insurance versus seeking jobs in the labor market. But what the GOP clearly doesn’t seem to understand is that’s exactly what we should want during a global pandemic. The more people stay home the less the coronavirus will spread among the population. Expanded unemployment insurance helps people do that by giving them financial assistance and helping them prevent the spread.
Imagine the pure blind dedication to an economic ideology – the chutzpah – it takes a US Senator to stand up at a podium and say: “well, I get concerns about COVID and understand we’re losing millions of jobs, but unemployment insurance is too generous. People are earning more on UI than they were at their jobs. It’s breeding freeloaders. Therefore, we want to cut expanded UI by $400 per week. Get back out there and find some work. Watch your step, there’s a pandemic raging! And don’t forget to vote Republican on November 3rd!”
Besides their loathsome attitudes towards government dependency, conservatives are also beginning to worry about the debt and deficit again. They’re using it as a justification for cutting expanded unemployment insurance in their coronavirus stimulus package.
Deficits, Deficits, and [No] More Deficits
I’ll give pro-business Republicans this – they’re nothing if not consistent.
I read a medium post by former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley this week where she talked about the national debt as if it were the greatest problem facing America.
She – and all other deficit hawk Republicans – are wrong.
There is no serious economist out there that thinks America will ever default on its debt obligations or won’t be able to pay the interest on it. What Haley is attempting to do is compare America’s debt and spending to an average person’s household debt and spending. You have a fixed income that you can’t change which then means you need to create a budget that fits those parameters. The Federal Government does not have that issue. We absolutely have limits on how much we can spend, Haley is right there. But the metrics she and every small-government conservative use are wrong. They care about how big the debt and deficit are; I care about inflation.
Why am I talking about Nikki Haley’s medium post? Because after spending trillions of dollars on the CARES Act and other stimulus packages, we’re starting to see the small-government conservatives creep out of the woodwork.
To Haley and others, the national debt is as deadly as the coronavirus. The difference between the two of course is the coronavirus has claimed over 160K deaths in the US alone. The national debt has claimed 0. The coronavirus drove unemployment to over 10%. The national debt contributed nothing to that. The coronavirus knocked GDP down 32.9% in the second quarter. The national debt did not.
Stop complaining about the debt and deficit – it’s not the problem right now.
Liability Protections for Businesses
This part of the deal is equally as misguided as slashing unemployment assistance, but not as harmful– at least in my opinion. In their coronavirus stimulus package, the GOP wants to give liability protection to businesses, universities, and other entities from being sued in the future by anyone who may claim to have contracted COVID-19 due to company negligence.
Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said that liability protections are his red line. In his own words: “So long as institutions follow the best available guidelines, they should not have to live in fear of a second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits.”
What this shows me is – like the majority of their proposal – the GOP is completely tone-deaf. They don’t understand who it is that needs protections right now. It’s not business leaders who may or may not experience “frivolous lawsuits”. It’s the nurses who need more PPE. It’s state and local governments with massive budget holes that need to be plugged; without federal assistance, they will have to lay off more workers which will hurt more American families. It’s the business owners who are still shut down due to state lockdown orders who need another influx of loans.
Most important of all, it is the Americans who’ve lost their jobs. They shouldn’t have to decide between providing food for their families and their health. If they try to find work, they’re risking a lot.
The Republican Party cares more about rebounding the Trump economy before November than protecting working-class Americans. I have no idea why this part of the deal is Mitch McConnell’s “red line”.
Let’s play a word association game. What words come to mind when you think of the GOP’s coronavirus stimulus package?
Here are some that come to mind:
Cruel. Tone-deaf. Based on a counterfeit economic ideology. Unhelpful. Deliberately unhelpful.
I kept my list short not out of a loss for words but restraint. Their plan is wrong, plain as day.
It cuts the legs out from under people who are relying on unemployment insurance. Republicans want to end it so that they can shove people into the workforce – in the middle of a pandemic – and get back to the glory days of January and February.
They want to protect businesses over workers. They want to leave state and local governments out to dry while their budgets are depleted due to massive losses in tax revenue.
The two visions for the next relief bill don’t just demonstrate one party’s lack of preparedness and the other’s commitment and foresight. They show that one party understands the seriousness of this pandemic and what an appropriate economic response should be. The other is burying its head in the sand and refuses to lift it to listen to factual arguments that run counter to their economic ideology; an ideology that is old school and completely ill-suited to combat a global pandemic and the economic hardship it wreaks. The problem is while this debate rages so does the coronavirus and the pain its causing.
Now is not the time to worry about deficits and “freeloaders”. We don’t need deficit dogma or small-government conservatism. What we need, as FDR once said, “is action, and action now.” We need to put small-government conservatism on the shelf and leave it there. If we face a massive spike in inflation, then you can pick it up, dust it off, and bring it back to the discussion.
Until then, let it lie.