Progressives Insist On $1,200 Direct Pandemic Relief Payments-- Conservatives Insist That's Too Much
Reporting for NBC News before dawn, Stephanie Ruhle and Benjy Sarlin wrote about Congress' inability to get rescue funds to Americans who are watching their economy collapse because Trump and his enablers refused to take the pandemic seriously. The current, devastating wave in the pandemic is the worst so far, with schools and businesses being shut again, hospitals past the breaking point, and unemployment rising. The House has passed a rescue package that includes an inadequate $1,200 payment. Instead of raising it, the Republican-controlled Senate-- with Trump's approval-- wants to cut it in half. Maybe if the Democrats in the House had passed a $2,500 payment-- which would be a better way to meet the emergency anyway-- the Republicans would have proposed cutting it to $1,200. But that's a step the Democratic governmental establishment has never quite figured out.
The pandemic may not be as bad elsewhere, but it is devastating other countries as well. These were new cases reported yesterday in wealthy countries that could be compared to the U.S.:
US- 209,756 (46,992 cases per million residents)
Russia- 26,097 (17,410 cases per million residents)
Germany- 18,319 (14,575 cases per million residents)
Italy- 14,842 (29,085 cases per million residents)
France- 13,713 (35,349 cases per million residents)
U.K.- 12,282 (25,723 cases per million residents)
Sweden- 6,594 (30,097 cases per million residents)
Netherlands- 6,146 (33,639 cases per million residents)
Canada- 5,981 (11,324 cases per million residents)
Switzerland- 4,262 (41,884 cases per million residents)
Sarlin and Ruhle wrote that "Wealthy nations across Europe are facing a major surge in new infections too, as is Canada. But unlike their economic peers, elected leaders in the U.S. have left citizens to face the current crisis without any additional financial cushion from their government. In the United Kingdom, the conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson has extended relief to workers that had been set to expire-- a lifeline for millions contending with new lockdowns across the country. In Germany, officials approved more funding to compensate businesses affected by health restrictions. And in Canada, a new budget plan lays out more aid to businesses in hard-hit sectors to complement ongoing subsidies for workers, including $2,000 a month for those who have lost jobs or income due to the pandemic."
“Most of what they put into place in March and April has now been extended and beefed up,” said Armine Yalnizyan, an economist at the Atkinson Foundation tracking Canada’s response.
The U.S. has gone the opposite direction, letting benefits for workers and businesses expire with no agreement yet in Washington on a new aid package.
A weekly benefit of $600 for people who lost their jobs or couldn’t work in the pandemic ended in July with no legislative replacement, and funding to keep small businesses afloat is tapped out as well. An extension of state unemployment benefits is set to end after this month as well, along with eviction protections for renters, a paid leave provision, and a freeze on student loan payments.
The White House and Congress have been locked in debate for months on new relief, with Democratic leaders recently embracing a bipartisan bill to provide about $900 billion in aid and President Trump and Republican leaders initially backing a smaller figure. While talks have picked up steam in recent days, there's still no deal.
The lack of assistance from Washington has taken on additional urgency in recent weeks. Job growth abruptly slowed in November and 10 million fewer people are working than when the pandemic hit last spring.
It’s also made it more difficult for states to follow guidance from Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts, who recommend shutting down high-risk businesses like bars and indoor restaurants in order to curb outbreaks and make it safer to keep schools open.
Without additional relief, state and local governments face no-win decisions between imposing recommended health rules and bankrupting local businesses.
I spoke with Matt Cartwright this morning, a Pennsylvania progressive who won (51.8% to 48.2%) in a tough district that Trump also won. He told me that "Mitch McConnell cares only about protecting the rich. His response to the people who have lost their jobs or small businesses and are waiting in lines to get food? 'You’re on your own.' His response to the frontline workers putting themselves at risk of catching Covid-19, many of them making minimum wage, and getting no hazard pay that the House passed in May? 'Get lost.' His response to towns, cities and states that cannot afford to pay their police, firefighters, first responders and garbage collectors because their revenue has dwindled to a trickle in the pandemic? 'Not my problem.'"
European nations have imposed mask and stay at home mandates that the U.S. government refuses to seriously consider, instead politicizing the pandemic in ways to guarantee continued devastation. The Europeans' infection rate has started coming down significantly, while the U.S. rate continues to rise.
Sarlin and Ruhle reported that "The aid provided by the government varies by country in Europe, but economists say there are some common features. In many places, relief was designed as a subsidy for businesses to keep workers on payroll while paying a percentage of their wages rather than moving them to unemployment. Some countries have benefited by having systems in place that were created to respond to prior recessions. Germany’s 'Kurzarbeit' program, for example, which pays a portion of wages to encourage companies to keep workers on reduced hours rather than lay them off, was considered a success story after the 2008 financial crisis and proved a model for other countries. 'These furlough schemes have been very effective so far at limiting fallout in jobs,' Ken Wattret, Chief European Economist at IHS Markit, said. 'We’ve had one in the UK, the French, Spanish and Italian governments have variations. They are all different in specifics, but the general point of them is the same.'"
Here in the U.S., they reported, "relief provided by the CARES act had an enormous impact. Even after the economy collapsed last spring, poverty rates initially held steady, according to a Columbia University study in June. Many Americans were even able to build up a pool of savings to help tide them through the pandemic. Most of the CARES act funding was temporary, aimed at helping workers through what lawmakers hoped would be a relatively short period needed to get the virus under control. Instead, benefits began to expire as the pandemic worsened... Now, experts fear the lapse in aid is dragging down the most vulnerable Americans and shuttering small businesses just as spiking Covid-19 infections put their health at risk. When the same Columbia University researchers reported back in October, they found 8 million Americans had fallen into poverty. About 1 in 6 households with children report not having enough food, according to the Census Bureau, and the numbers appear to be worsening. While the economy is expected to bounce back once a vaccine is widely distributed, the misery inflicted before then could be severe. Lost businesses and permanent layoffs could potentially prolong the recovery. 'The question is should a rich country allow thousands of businesses to fail just because the government couldn’t get their act together,' [Pantheon Macroeconomics chief economist Ian] Shepherdson said. 'It's a moral imperative as much as a macroeconomic imperative.'"
Nanette Barragán is a courageous congresswoman representing a hard-pressed Los Angeles district. This morning she told us that "People are hurting during this pandemic. Due to no fault of their own, they’re being forced into a corner. It shouldn’t be this way, and it’s the government’s duty to find a way out of this crisis. That’s why I have consistently pushed for Congress to provide additional direct payments of at least $1,200 to the American people to help them get through this public health emergency. We need to ensure that in communities like mine, people are able to afford the essentials, like paying their rent and providing food for themselves and their families. With vaccine distribution coming soon, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Congress must help people get there."
Ted Lieu, who is being considered for the soon to be open California Attorney General position, has been advocating for much more proactive steps to help with the pandemic, both for families, schools and for small businesses. This morning he reminded me that from the earliest days of the pandemic he has been loud and clear that "the sheer size and scope of the crisis requires a federal response that is both substantial and sustained. We are asking people to stay home and in some cases not allowing their businesses to open in order to slow the spread of the virus. We can’t do that and not care for them. Direct payments are the easiest and most efficient way to do this. Republicans need to negotiate in good faith in order to get much needed relief to millions of American families. And in the absence of that Democrats need to stop negotiating with ourselves."
Bernie is working with his colleagues in the Senate-- both progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley as well as conservative Republican Josh Hawley-- to make sure the minimum direct payment in the eventual bill is $1,200 per adult plus $500 per child. Hawley has asked Trump to veto any bill that doesn't include the $1,200 direct payment. Trump has indicated he thinks $600 is good enough. Late last night, Pelosi and Schumer said the $600 "compromise" from Trump is too little and unacceptable. If the Democrats are smart-- LOL-- they'll make this THE issue in the Georgia runoff elections next month. One party wants to help ordinary families keep it together and one doesn't. Pretty clear. Moments ago, on Twitter: