U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York
U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic Leader (Photo: Third Way)

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.

Nine­ty-six sen­a­tors vot­ed for the bill.

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.

One key pro­vi­sion says that the res­cue pack­age can’t be used to bail out busi­ness­es con­trolled by the peo­ple’s elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives:

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.

Anoth­er pro­vi­sion that Democ­rats insist­ed upon aims to pro­tect tax­pay­ers by set­ting up much-need­ed account­abil­i­ty mech­a­nisms:

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.

And impor­tant­ly, dis­clo­sures about lend­ing to cor­po­ra­tions will need to be made in a time­ly fash­ion by demand of Chuck Schumer.

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:

Health Care

  • 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.

Eco­nom­ic Support

  • 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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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