Remember Paul Ryan and the deficit scolds? Yeah, those folks are long gone. The surest sign of that came just a few minutes ago when the United States Senate voted unanimously (!) to adopt an enormous $2.2 trillion coronavirus rescue package and send it to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
The four senators who did not vote were Republicans Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee and Mitt Romney of Utah, and John Thune of South Dakota. (Thune has just come down with an illness; the others are in self-quarantine.)
If you’re wondering how this rescue package compares to the so-called “stimulus” from 2009 (which was actually called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA), the answer is that it’s more than twice as big.
“When ARRA was being considered, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that it would increase budget deficits by $787 billion between fiscal years 2009 and 2019,” CBO staff wrote in a report for Congress released in February of 2012.
“CBO now estimates that the total impact over the 2009–2019 period will amount to about $831 billion. By CBO’s estimate, close to half of that impact occurred in fiscal year 2010, and more than ninety percent of ARRA’s budgetary impact was realized by the end of December 2011.”
ARRA was passed by a Congress that was controlled entirely by Democrats and sent to a newly inaugurated Democratic President during the height of the Great Recession. No House Republicans voted for it, and only a couple of Republicans in the Senate agreed to back it (Arlen Specter and Susan Collins).
This legislation appropriates more than twice as much money and will head to the desk of a Republican president with Mitch McConnell’s blessing.
“Let’s stay connected and continue to collaborate on the best ways to keep helping our states and our country through this pandemic,” McConnell said. “Let’s continue to pray for one another, for all of our families, and for our country.”
Think about that for a moment.
And then remember Simpson-Bowles. And the Tea Party manifesto. And Obama’s grand bargain to get the debt ceiling raised. And… sequestration.
Why did this country have to endure all that nonsense?
Answer: Because Barack Obama was President. No other reason!
With the executive branch no longer under Democratic control, deficits don’t matter and deficit hawks have no power or relevance in the United States Congress.
Consider Congress’ recent track record. Congress has:
- passed massive tax cuts for corporations (the Republican tax scam);
- significantly increased defense spending;
- refused to adopt Trump’s proposed cuts to public services.
And now the Senate — in a rather unprecedented show of bipartisanship — has unanimously approved a coronavirus rescue package that dwarfs ARRA in size and scope. Is it perfect? Definitely not. Is it needed? Yes. This is a crisis.
Progressive Democrats like Elizabeth Warren fought hard — really hard — to prevent the legislation from ending up as one big blank check that Trump’s minions could use to create a corporate slush fund. For that, we are very, very grateful.
The legislation ensures that taxpayer-backed loans cannot go to firms controlled by Trump, other White House officials or members of Congress. This would suggest that Trump-owned properties, including hotels that have been hurt by the downturn, cannot seek taxpayer assistance.
For example, the White House and Republicans agreed to allow an oversight board and create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery to scrutinize the lending decisions and detect abusive or fraudulent behavior.
“Every loan document will be public and made available to Congress very quickly so we can see where the money is going, what the terms are and if it’s fair to the American people,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
One last holdup, according to two congressional aides, surrounded a final condition for the more than half-trillion in corporate rescue funding: Schumer insisted on language requiring the terms of those loans to be disclosed to the public within seven days. The change was made, and the final bill circulated to Senate offices shortly after 10 PM.
Donald Trump expressed satisfaction with the result, saying:
“The Democrats have treated us fairly. I really believe that we’ve had a very good back and forth. And I say that with respect to Chuck Schumer.”
That’s… high praise.
The Pacific Northwest’s United States Senators have been in communication with NPI to share their thoughts about the rescue package.
Here’s what Senator Patty Murray had to say about it:
“From the beginning of this crisis I’ve insisted that our response be focused on getting people on the front lines the support they need, like surge capacity in hospitals, more medical supplies and personal protective equipment for responders, and relief for workers and small businesses who’ve had the rug pulled out from under them.”
“I’m glad Democrats pushed for and got much-needed changes that will do more to help Washington state hospitals, workers, small businesses, and hard-hit families and communities.”
“I also want to be clear that this was not the bill I would have written on my own, and there’s no question there is much more to do to fight this virus — especially when it comes to ensuring all workers have paid leave, cost isn’t a barrier to treatment, and hard-hit states like ours get the resources we are demanding.”
“I know how difficult this time is for people across our state and I want every worker, student, and family in Washington to know I am holding each of you in my heart, and that I will continue holding the Trump Administration accountable for implementing this law, and others related to the coronavirus response, with the urgency, consistency, and equity our state deserves.”
“I am doing absolutely everything I can to make sure Washington state gets what we need from the other Washington, and I won’t stop until we’ve recovered. There is a long road ahead, but we will get through this together.”
Murray’s office cited the following as highlights of the bill:
- Hospitals: $100 billion nationwide in surge funding for hospitals and health infrastructure.
- Public Health Agencies: $4.3 billion nationally to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19.
- Personal Protective Equipment: $16 billion for the National Strategic Stockpile to purchase supplies, including personal protective equipment.
- Medical Supplies: $1 billion for the Defense Production Act to bolster domestic supply chains, enabling industry to quickly ramp up production of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other urgently needed medical supplies, and billions dollars more for federal, state, and local health agencies to purchase such equipment.
- Community Health Centers: $1.32 billion in supplemental awards for community health centers.
- Child Care: $3.5 billion nationally for the Child Care Development Block Grant, which supports child care and early education programs.
- Unemployment Insurance: $600 increase to the weekly unemployment insurance benefit and expansion of eligibility for benefits to those impacted by COVID-19.
- Direct Payments: $1,200 per individual, plus $500 for children.
- Retirement Income: Increases in people’s flexibility to access and manage their retirement savings.
- Small Businesses: More than $375 billion in small business grants, loans, and assistance.
- Transportation: $35 billion nationally in aid to our nation’s transit systems and airports.
- Corporate Accountability: Protections against big corporations abusing federal support by preventing compensation increases and bonuses for executives and stock buy backs.
Washington State Priorities
- Emergency Funding: $45 billion nationally for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to provide for the immediate needs of state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to protect citizens and help them recover from the overwhelming effects of COVID-19.
- Education Funding: $30.75 billion nationally to help ensure K‑12 schools and institutions of higher education can continue to serve students as they respond to the coronavirus crisis.
- Housing Funding: $7 billion nationally for affordable housing and homelessness assistance programs.
- Community Development Block Grants (CDBG): $5 billion nationally for counties and cities to rapidly respond to COVID-19 and the economic and housing impacts caused by it.
- Tribes: More than $10 billion for tribal COVID-19 response expenses.
- Tri-Cities: Directions to the federal government to ensure tens of thousands of workers at the Hanford Nuclear Site and PNNL who cannot telework continue to receive pay.
- Veterans: $19.6 billion nationally for our nation’s veterans, including to help treat COVID-19, purchase test kits, and procure personal protective equipment for clinicians.
- Fisheries: $300 million nationally for tribal, subsistence, commercial, and charter fishery participants.
Seatmate Maria Cantwell, who has served alongside Murray for nearly two decades, emphasized that the rescue package has a lot to offer small business owners.
“Our small businesses have been hit hard. We want to try to lessen the economic impacts of shelter-in-place or social distancing,” Cantwell said.
“Our businesses who shut down don’t have the same resources to come to Washington, D.C., to lobby for aid and support but are counting on us to create a program that small businesses can get both grants and loans.”
According to Cantwell’s staff, the Senator…
… supported more than $377 billion in assistance for small businesses throughout the country. $350 billion of the funding will help provide Small Business Administration (SBA) low-interest, federally-guaranteed loan programs for small business owners. She also helped secure $27 billion to provide relief and assistance to small businesses and non-profits. That includes $10 billion to fund a new emergency grant program for small businesses of up to $10,000, and $17 billion to enable the Small Business Administration (SBA) to cover all loan payments – including principal, interest, and fees – for new and existing SBA loans for the next six months.
Oregon’s senior United States Senator Ron Wyden also praised the package.
“From the start, Democrats made it clear that struggling families and small businesses must be the priority in any economic package passed by Congress,” said Wyden, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member and a chief negotiator of the package. “I fought hard for a bill that would help those Oregonians who have no way to pay their bills for potentially months down the road, and the small businesses struggling to stay afloat during this crisis.”
“There is lots of work ahead, but tonight the Senate took the right step toward helping alleviate the economic pain so many Oregonians are feeling.”
Wyden’s office cited the following as highlights of the bill:
- $55 billion increase in the Marshall Plan for our Health Care System.
- $150 billion for a state and local Coronavirus Relief fund, including $8 billion for a separate tribal relief fund.
- $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs.
- $350 billion for new small business loans up to $10 million, specifically aimed at prioritizing small businesses in underserved and rural markets and those owned by economically disadvantaged individuals and women.
- $30 billion in emergency education funding and $25 billion in emergency transit funding.
- $30 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund to provide financial assistance to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, as well as private nonprofits providing critical and essential services.
- More than $10 billion for the Indian Health Services, and other tribal programs.
- Prohibition on businesses controlled by the President, Vice President, Members of Congress, and heads of Executive Departments from receiving loans or investments from Treasury programs.
- Make rent, mortgage and utility costs eligible for SBA loan forgiveness.
- Ban on stock buybacks for the term of the government assistance plus 1 year on any company receiving a government loan from the bill.
- Establishment of robust worker protections attached to all federal loans for businesses.
- Provide income tax exclusion for individuals who are receiving student loan repayment assistance from their employer.
“We face a public health crisis that threatens to bring another Great Depression. Families, hospitals, & small businesses need immediate aid,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren. “This is not the bill I wanted, but its immediate investments are vital. They are also insufficient. We will need to do more – and soon.”
“But the price of action during a health crisis shouldn’t be a $450 billion Trump Administration fund that could be used to boost favored corporations,” Warren declared. “I fought for more oversight & restrictions on this fund.”
“We got some limits, but they are short of what’s needed.”
“I won’t block vital aid but tomorrow we get back up and continue the fight. And I make you this promise: I will spend every waking moment watching the Trump Administration and do everything I can to hold it accountable for how it spends this $450 billion taxpayer fund,” Warren pledged.
“In this crisis, what the American people want is for us to use our taxpayer dollars in every way that we can to protect the working families of this country and the fifty percent of Americans who are living paycheck to paycheck, not just the billionaires and large corporations,” said Senator Bernie Sanders.
In a package this large, there is something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to dislike. Given that Republicans control the Senate and White House, it’s a miracle that there is so much money in this bill for workers, for transit agencies, for small businesses, and for state and local governments.
And yet, as big as this bill is, it’s not enough. This bill is being called a “stimulus”, like ARRA was, but it’s not a stimulus. This is a rescue bill.
This is a bill that tries to hold back a dam from breaking. And it may seem huge, but’s not enough; there needs to be a sequel and another sequel after that.
A real stimulus would go beyond a rescue and address both our widening infrastructure deficit and the climate crisis. We are still in need of a real stimulus.
Reporters and opinion writers, take note: No Senate Republicans appear concerned with finding an answer to the question “How you gonna pay for this?” Because that’s not important. What’s important is helping people.
For anyone concerned about the national debt and deficit spending, there’s a simple solution to the question “How you gonna pay for that?”: Raise taxes on the wealthy. It’s not going to happen right now, but as soon as there is a more responsible President and Senate majority in place, it should.