The negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Trump’s representative, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, were tough and at times nearly broke down. Yet both leaders conducted themselves responsibly, in a spirit of compromise, and eventually got to yes. Next comes Senate consideration, but passage in that GOP-controlled body appears likely. “People really pulled together. Nice to see!” Mr. Trump tweeted, and for once he was both constructive and truthful.
As for the measure’s substance, it represents a credible down payment on the public’s most critical short-term health and economic concerns. There will be free coronavirus testing. States will get a 6.2-percentage-point bump in their federal Medicaid payments, to help cope with a potential surge in hospital patients. Unemployment insurance will be beefed up ; work requirements for nutrition assistance will be suspended. To assuage Republican concerns, Democrats refrained from insisting on permanent policy changes, which, however sensible they might be, could have turned into dealbreakers for the president. The key example was paid sick leave, which the bill correctly provides, but on a temporary basis linked specifically to coronavirus infections. Small businesses can expect federal support in meeting the cost.
Obviously, it’s easier to compromise when a national emergency removes any budget constraint; the bill’s cost, likely many billions, has not yet been estimated precisely, and may not be possible to estimate, given how little we know about the epidemic’s ultimate course. In our view, though, the greater risk remains fiscal underreaction rather than overreaction. When Congress returns to this issue, as it must — soon — it should grapple directly with the need to support workers and consumers facing lost income in the likely economic crunch ahead.
This is a moral and practical imperative, to prevent avoidable suffering both to individuals and avoidable damage to what was, before the pandemic, a basically sound economy. While Mr. Trump’s proposal for a payroll tax holiday may point in the right direction, it is not optimally targeted to the most needy. Congress will be better off providing cash in the form of a tax rebate that arrives immediately and in larger amounts for those lower on the income scale.
For now, though, it bears repetition that our bitterly divided parties and politicians have done the right thing. Quite possibly, they were spurred by the fact that the pandemic occurred in an election year, when the public will render judgment on politicians who stand in the way of reasonable solutions. At least that’s the way democracy is supposed to work — and at least sometimes, it seems, still does.