Then again, Fox News wasn’t alone in its lack of congressional representation. Not one of the five network talk shows had a member of Congress as a guest on Sunday to discuss propping up the economy. And why should these shows bother booking members of Congress when progress has been so feeble?
It’s been weeks since the first stunning unemployment numbers were released. Yet in the past few days, Congress has only focused on saving one part of the previous stimulus bill, the Paycheck Protection Program, which has been overwhelmed by small businesses desperate for loans to survive and keep paying workers.
Like many cases of Washington inaction, the root cause is that Republicans’ interest in helping Americans exists in proportion to their political value to the party. That’s why Republicans gave (in declining order of importance) wealthy real estate investors $170 billion in tax relief that they didn’t even need, handed small business owners some but not all of the help they needed and allocated front-line workers some one-time checks (plus the unemployment benefits Democrats fought for).
With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republican leaders still skeptical about another stimulus, making up for time lost requires Democrats to step up and use what leverage they have. Senate Democrats already rejected a clean extension of funding for protective equipment for health-care workers, preserving that bargaining chip. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) have asked for $100 billion more for hospitals, $150 billion to shore up state and local governments, and a 15 percent increase in food-stamp benefits. That’s a start, but Democrats must go much further.
First, as University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee told Politico, “you gotta stop the virus before you can do anything about the economics.” As Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) suggested, Democrats should require that the government — whether through the president’s Defense Production Act powers or other mechanisms — ramp up efforts to produce protective equipment, vaccines, tests and so on. Nothing less than mass mobilization will suffice.
Then there’s protecting our elections. Tuesday’s debacle in Wisconsin showed that vote-by-mail is the only way to ensure integrity of the fall elections, and Democrats must make it one of their demands. That means giving all voters the option to vote by mail, not just the voters Republicans like, and making the postage for ballots free. If it’s good enough for the president, it’s good enough for all of us. (Making vote-by-mail a national reality also includes saving the U.S. Postal Service from onerous pension obligations threatening its existence and 650,000 jobs.)
As for the economy, for the short term, an ideal Democratic opening bid would back Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s “Paycheck Guarantee Act,” which would cover 100 percent of worker salaries up to $100,000 for at least the next three months. Other countries have implemented similar proposals successfully, and such a program would replace the clumsily targeted business loan programs in the last stimulus package. Democrats should also push hard for Schumer’s “Heroes Fund,” which would provide $13-per-hour hazard pay to health-care workers, grocery store staff and others on the front lines during the pandemic.
In the longer term, Democrats should back a self-renewing stimulus that doesn’t need Congress to get its act together to keep going. Economics professor Mark Paul and Billy Fleming, a senior fellow at Data for Progress, suggest a recurring Green Stimulus “automatically renewed at 4% of GDP per year until the economy is fully decarbonized and the unemployment rate is consistently below 3.5%.” Such a policy would be unprecedented in U.S. history. But it would address two of the greatest threats the country faces: massive unemployment and the climate crisis. And as long as Congress can be counted on to dither, self-renewing stimulus is the safest policy we can have.