The rusty wheels of government finally began turning again on April 21, as the White House and congressional leaders agreed on the next Coronavirus relief bill for a struggling nation. The contentious bill carries a $484 billion price tag, which includes $320 billion for the depleted Paycheck Protection Program, about $60 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, $75 billion for hospitals, and a further $25 billion to expand and accelerate COVID-19 testing.
The entire economic rescue operation is dripping with political partisanship, though. That fact can only reaffirm the belief of so many Americans that, in Washington, D.C., the everlasting struggle to win – or retain – power will always come before the interests of working Americans. To ordinary people, it would seem that identifying the sectors that needed financial assistance – and how much they will need – would not be a difficult thing on which to agree.
Both Sides Claim Victory
Democrats, however, may have seen an opportunity to bend the health care industry toward further reliance on the federal government. The Republicans’ original plan to provide some $250 billion to small businesses was shot down by Democrats who wanted a larger package, which would include money for the states and an infusion of cash into hospitals.
While the new bill, it could be argued, is something of a compromise, the opposition party eventually gave ground on some demands. Or did they? Even this question seems to be going unanswered, which raises another question: Why did it take 12 days of bickering to get the bill this far? “Democratic leaders blocked the money and spent days trying to negotiate extraneous issues that were never on the table,” said Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “I am grateful our colleagues have walked away from those demands and will finally let Congress act.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) appeared to contradict McConnell’s claim of victory, though: “When you look at the package that’s going to be passed, it’s almost exactly like the one we asked for two weeks ago,” he said. “We’re ending up with a bill we could’ve passed 12 days ago.”
Hoyer may be spinning the real story a little, however. Democrats had wanted $150 billion for state and local governments, but both McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rejected that demand, and the proposed allocation is not in the bill.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) stood in opposition, though, objecting to another massive increase in the nation’s debt. The ultimate deficit hawk, Paul does inspire a vital debate: On the one hand, the federal government is again throwing trillions of dollars at the problem with no regard for the nation’s future financial health. On the other hand, American business owners and workers are gasping for air, through no fault of their own. Who is to blame, ultimately, for their current tribulations?
Congress never has trouble spending the people’s money until political gamesmanship becomes the most crucial consideration. Bailout is a dirty word, both on Pennsylvania Avenue and on Main Street, though hardly ever on Wall Street. Typically, though, it is because nobody with a shred of fiscal responsibility wants to see private-sector entities bailed out by the government after bringing financial ruin upon themselves. Too big to fail is the rallying cry of those who support corporatism over free-market capitalism.
A Shutdown for Public Health or Politics?
In these unusual times, however, the B-word has become the one nobody can avoid. This time around, it was not corporate excess or predatory lending or credit default swaps that crashed the economy; it was the politicians who took a sledgehammer to the nation’s commerce and industry. Why they did it, nobody knows for sure, though conspiracy theories abound – some of them credible and some less so.
That the shutdowns and social-distancing decrees were really in the interest of public health is, at least, debatable. One stands far less chance of contracting a virus by walking in the park or on the beach than one does by spending even just 20 minutes in a grocery store – yet the parks and beaches were closed and the grocery stores remained open.
Grocery stores are essential businesses, though, was the cry. However, many of those stores did not restrict the number of people who could enter at one time, nor how much time each person could remain inside, milling about, touching the shelves and the items on them, transferring their bags and purchased items – along with their germs, possibly – from hand to cart and from cart to hand. Just punching in one’s PIN at the checkout entails touching the same buttons 20 other people had pressed in the previous hour.
The argument, then, is not so much whether the grocery stores should have been shut down as why, when they remained open, should everything else have been shut down.
That the public deserved early and detailed warnings about the potential dangers of Coronavirus is not in question. That the entire nation should have been brought to its knees for the sake of imposing half-hearted mitigation measures, however, is something that demands further scrutiny.
To suggest that the fight over now getting the nation back to work is not political is to ignore the glaringly obvious. Most Democratic Party politicians, along with the people who support them, continue to resist a speedy return to normality, while most Republicans and their supporters are chomping at the bit to get back to work. The obvious conclusion, then, is that one side yearns for a return to prosperity while the other side sees that prosperity as a threat.
Alternatively, this may all just be about controlling the unwashed masses, as the left is always so eager to do. As Liberty Nation’s Leesa K. Donner writes: “[M]ake no mistake, there is an ideological battle being waged just below the surface of this COVID-19 crisis. It is likely those on the right will need to remind progressives who tend to find a socialist solution under every rock that the Coronavirus gloves are meant to be disposable.”
This latest relief bill will now go to the House on April 23 and is likely to pass without further delay. Then it will be on to the next wave of emergency spending, no doubt. Meanwhile, the wheels are coming off the stay-at-home cart, and the ultimate saviors of the economy will likely turn out to be the American people, who are ushering in, by sheer force of will, the reopening of America.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.
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