Politics First, Americans Second: Politicization of the Coronavirus Stimulus Package

by Eli Mshomi
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Unemployed masses, empty tables, overdue rents, and a nosediving economy describe the persisting economic condition of millions of Americans. 

As the government tries to reduce the sufferings of the masses, the worst show of politics in Congress stalled these efforts. The lingering of the coronavirus stimulus package in Congress just multiplied the pain for the Americans waiting desperately for the final signature on the bill by Trump.

The disputed provision by Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania sparked conflict between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House. The contested provision demanded ending the emergency lending programs that are currently provided by the Federal Reserve.

However, Democrats voiced that doing so will burden the Biden administration. The problem with the disputed provision was that it would block the Biden administration’s methods to tackle the worsening COVID crisis after coming to power. 

Amid the trying times, Republicans tried to play politics to tie the upcoming administration’s hands so they could get undue sympathies after Biden’s inauguration in the office.

Now, Congress is all set to pass the bill as Republicans step down from their demand for emergency lending by Federal Reserve.

Currently, the relief bill’s value is about $900 billion, which is much bigger than what Republicans pursued earlier, i.e., $500 billion.

What exactly is this coronavirus stimulus package, and how has the politicization of the bill increased the sufferings of Americans. Let’s dig deeper.

Patt Toomey about Coronavirus Stimulus package

Politics First, Americans Second: A Congressional Rhetoric

The United States witnessed the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression in recent times as the unemployment rate increased from 3.4% in February to 14% in April 2020.

Democrats, who revolved their election campaign on providing relief to Americans, tried to push the GOP government for a bigger relief package, resulting in delaying the coronavirus stimulus package.

President-elect Joe Biden also forced the Democrats not to settle for anything less. According to the reports, Biden wanted to get at least a $2.2 trillion package to lessen the burden on the upcoming Biden administration.

The major bone of contention between Republicans and Democrats was the provision laid down by Republican Senator Pat Toomey. The condition demanded the restriction of the Federal Reserve to lend money for emergency programs. 

However, according to the Democrats, the bigger problem was that it would also restrict the Biden administration to reject the provision after coming to the White House.

So, the Democrats wanted to make Biden’s way clear as he moves to the White House next month. 

While promoting the provision, Toomey said,

“It is not the role of our central bank, the Fed, to engage in fiscal policy, social policy, or allocating credit.”

(Pat Toomey)

 

However, the Democrats resisted the provision with full force and made sure that no such thing passed the lower house of Congress.

Mark Warner, a Democratic Senator said,

 

“Tying the hands of the Fed and Treasury to combat not only the remainder of the current crisis but future crises as well, would be a terrible mistake.”

(Mark Warner)

 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposed a $600 stimulus check. 

As Nancy Pelosi compromised on a smaller package and agreed to a $908 billion relief package, she had to lead Democrats to figure out the remaining differences with the Republicans.

Senator Mitch McConnell already predicted earlier in the week that the talks regarding the bill could go to the weekend. 

Most of the time, the legislatures fly to their home states on weekends, but these trying times are forcing them to stick to the call of duty, as Americans see them as their last hope amid the rising deaths.

 

Republicans Playing Dirty Politics Over People’s Lives

Congress finally passed the gigantic deal to aid Americans in need. Under the deal, the deserving people will get the stimulus check, and the unemployed receive additional protection to ease their suffering.

However, as the four Congressional leaders finalized the bill, politics intervened once again, and the blame game started. As Democrats said that Republicans never wanted to approve the deal, Republicans lashed back and tried to portray that they wanted to approve the deal months ago.

It is pertinent to mention here that the compromise bill was introduced on December 1, 2020, and the rhetoric of approving the deal months ago is merely rhetoric.

 

“From where I stand, from where Senate Republicans stand, there’s no reason why this urgent package could not have been signed into law multiple months ago.”

(Mitch McConnell)

 

However, the reality suggests that the undue discussions on the deal and the worst show of politics by Republicans delayed the deal to such an extent that they had to introduce a stopgap bill to avert a government shutdown.

The approach to opposing Toomey’s provision by Democrats was reasonable as the COVID crisis will stay in the United States for some time now. The way Donald Trump tackled the deteriorated health infrastructure of the United States lately is a clear example that Americans are likely to continue to suffer from the coronavirus crisis in the foreseeable future.

Stopping the emergency lending facilities is bound to restrain the Federal Reserve as it will fail to tackle any crisis in the future.

Republicans voiced that the need for the emergency lending program is over now, but this is not true at all. The truth is that the active cases in the USA today are far more than those in August. So, the need for an emergency lending program is more than ever today. Undoing them will just increase the pressure on the upcoming Biden administration.

It will also deprive many deserving and needy Americans to get additional funds in urgent times.

Disputed Business Lawsuit Provision of Coronavirus Stimulus Package

Stimulus Liability Measure: An Attempt to Protect Rich over Poor:

Republicans also tried to pursue their policy of taking as much money from the average American as they could. 

They initially tried to exempt businesses from lawsuits in the name of incentivizing them during the coronavirus crisis. According to them, the workers and the other competing entities would not be allowed to sue businesses in these trying times.

The original provision reads,

“An employer shall not be subject to any enforcement proceeding or liability under any provision of a covered federal employment law.”

(Disputed Provision on Business Lawsuits)

 

However, it was an explicitly rigid and politically motivated approach. For instance, it could result in pay cuts by the businesses without any worry of lawsuits. Firms without any watchdog agency can exploit the already exploited workers, who are facing tougher times than these businesses. This would also eradicate the concept of the labor union at the times when they matter the most. 

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Democrats pursued this with full ambition, and fortunately, they succeeded in rebuking this. The final draft, which is likely to get approved, would not exempt the businesses from these undue favors.  

Experts also believe that any such legislation will further strangle the disabled and people of color who can be fired from the workplaces at an unprecedented rate.

One of the primary Biden policies is to safeguard the workers from undue workplace rules to avoid worker exploitation. 

It was just one of the tactics of the Republicans to create social unrest among the masses before the Biden’s administration’s arrival to further their anti-Democratic agenda.

Providing these lawsuits will also increase the coronavirus cases, as the businesses will violate the COVID-19 SOPs without being sued.

Bernie Sanders About COVID Stimulus Bill

Second Coronavirus Stimulus Package: What is in it?

The bill will include the second stimulus check of $600 for those who qualify for the payments.

Not only this, but it will also give $300 as unemployment checks to those who are out of work for a while now.

The check of $600 also became a bone of contention as Democrats pursued a $1200 check each, like the CARES Act. But it was drastically increasing the overall cost of the package.

Bernie Sander, an independent yet Democrat Senator, was more vocal than anybody else to make a $1200 check a reality for adults and at least $500 for each qualified child.

As the debate progressed, Sanders said,

“In the midst of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, somehow Congress is unable to respond effectively to the needs of working families.

(Bernie Sanders)

 

The whole bill is actually a combination of the two bills in total. The major one is the $748 billion bill, which consists of support in the primary areas of the fundamental human needs.

The second one spans over $160 billion and is restricted to state funding.

If we deconstruct the whole coronavirus stimulus package, we will see that it contains relief in the following domains.

 

  • Paycheck Protection
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • Local and State Aid
  • Education Fund
  • Transport Funding
  • Provider Relief Funding
  • Agricultural Assistance
  • Rental Assistance
  • Vaccine Development and Distribution
  • Child Care
  • US Postal Service Funding
  • Opioid Treatment Funding
  • Childcare

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The Persisting Politics of the Coronavirus Stimulus Package: Roots in the Pre-election Era

In October, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin started blaming each other for not cooperating on the critical issues.

Just before the November 3 Presidential elections, Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Steven Mnuchin urging the GOP Secretary for some immediate actions. An excerpt from the letter reads,

“Meanwhile, as the coronavirus surges and the stock market plummets, we are still awaiting the Trump Administration’s promised responses on multiple items of critical importance.”

(Nancy Pelosi to Steven Mnuchin)

 

Steven Mnuchin replied by making the letter public and declaring it a political stunt, while also criticizing the House Democrats for passing stand-alone bills on small businesses loans, direct payments, and airline relief packages. 

There have been many failed efforts between Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement over what the Federal government needs to do to get the economy back on track.

Amid this tug and pull, the Trump Administration offered a $1.9 trillion package, which further complicated the matter. With the presidential elections approaching, it was unclear how both sides will reach an agreement. 

House Democrats and Senate Republicans both wanted their bill to be passed, but none of them succeeded as COVID-19 continued to shatter American lives. 

The situation worsened when President Donald Trump announced, on Twitter, that he is cutting off talks with House Democrats, and will only continue if he wins the election. The failure of the Trump administration to present the stimulus bills before the elections was a big blow to the struggling economy and worsening pandemic. 

 

Averting Government Shutdown by a Stopgap Funding Bill

The government was on the brink of a shutdown when Donald Trump passed a stopgap funding bill to avoid the imminent crisis.

Lawmakers were facing a deadline of December 18 to pass the stimulus bills but were unable to reach an agreement, and now a short-term bill has been passed to avoid a government shutdown. 

This gave the legislatures time to get involved in more debates and pass the bill by Sunday, December 20, 2020. 

 

Conclusion

The worst show of politics by the Republican lawmakers prolonged the passing of the bill. While many Americans were finding it difficult to manage their expenses amid these trying times, Republicans preferred to put obstacles in the upcoming Biden approach.  

By pursuing the agenda of refuting the provisions of exemptions for lawsuits and the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending, Democrats made sure that they cleared their path of any potential hindrances that could make Biden’s way resistive. 

As Trump spends his last days in the White House waiting for the legal challenges to come into action against him, playing these dirty politics in the name of the virus should be discouraged at any cost.

Aside from all the personal benefits, the politicians, be they Republicans or Democrats, should gather on the point of common interest to pass the bill as early as they can. If Democrats believe that the bill is not enough to help Americans out, they should introduce a third stimulus package once they control the White House on January 20.

As the FDA approves the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, immediate relief is an absolute necessity to bring the country out of the doldrums.

 

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