On Tuesday, President Trump tossed what headline writers like to call a “last-minute wrench” into plans to help millions of Americans navigate the financial pain of the coronavirus pandemic. The aid bill Congress passed this week, he declared via a four-minute video released on Twitter, was not enough. Americans, he said, should receive more than a one-time $600 stimulus check. They deserved $2,000.
Let’s be clear: On that important point, Trump is right. The bill is inadequate: Americans need more money and lots of it. The $600 bonus payment the bill offers is half of what they received in the aid package in March. While welcome, the amount is so insignificant that it doesn’t even cover one month’s rent on the average one-bedroom apartment. The unemployment boost is stingier, too — offering up an extra $300 a week instead of the $600 Americans received in the spring. But the bill is also necessary. Without the president’s signature, millions of Americans are at risk of everything from losing unemployment benefits to eviction — yes, the proposed stimulus package extends federal eviction moratoriums.
If Trump doesn’t sign off on the existing bill, the new Congress will need to start from scratch after the first of the year. And despite immediate appearances, implicitly threatening to veto the only federal help Americans are likely to receive for some time to come is not exactly helpful to citizens in need. But the fact is, he was never actually trying to help you or me. And we should expect nothing less from Trump, whose inability to think about anyone other than Trump is well-established.
The Democratic-controlled House, lest you forget, passed a more than $3 trillion successor to the Cares Act in May. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made sure it went nowhere, and did the same for all other efforts to offer increasingly desperate Americans a financial lifeline. As I am forever pointing out, McConnell was so contemptuous of Democratic attempts to get money out that, during his reelection campaign, he laughed on a debate stage when confronted about it by Democratic challenger Amy McGrath.
Trump had almost nothing to say about all this. He maintained a low profile in the months-long stimulus negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, allowing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to take the lead for the White House. Yes, Trump tweeted out this fall he would like to see Americans receive $1,200 checks, and that he would sign a bill offering that up, but he didn’t bother to follow up in a meaningful way.
Shortly after Trump spoke up on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced plans to bring a bill including $2,000 checks to the floor of the House, allowing it to advance via a unanimous consent vote. “Let’s do it!,” she said. Few think it the proposal will go far — the odds of every Republican in the House supporting it are low.
It’s quite possible — nay, make that all but certain — that Trump’s last minute sabotage is a way of punishing McConnell, who is now openly accepting the fact that President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in in less than a month. McConnell only signed off on a stimulus package when it became clear that the lack of another financial aid package for Americans would make it more difficult for Republicans to win the two Senate runoff races set for Jan. 5 in Georgia, costing the party control of the upper chamber.
It’s a rich boy’s privilege to see the poor and downtrodden as pawns in a political game rather than as individual people in desperate need. The idea that Donald Trump actually cares about the financial realities Americans face is ludicrous. Now that he is on his way out, it’s increasingly obvious he’s only loyal to himself.
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