Late Thursday, Senate Republicans unveiled legislation that provides $1 trillion to bail out hard-hit industries and send checks directly to many Americans.
So what’s the bad news? The bill is getting pushback from Democrats, conservative Republicans and, to a lesser extent, the White House for a number of reasons. Let’s walk through the major friction points in getting to an agreement, one that ideally would come sooner rather than later.
Should the government send Americans checks? How many? Or do you bolster unemployment insurance instead?
No one in Washington — and I mean no one — is saying Americans shouldn’t get financial relief. And everyone wants it to come as soon as possible. The question is whether giving Americans a $1,000 check or two can be considered enough financial relief. The current legislation proposes giving each middle-class American adult at least one check for $1,200 and $500 for each child.
Lawmakers with such disparate ideological views as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) worry that while a check or two will help Americans for a couple of months, this dual economic and health crisis will go on much longer than that.
On Thursday, Schumer said on NPR: “$1,000 will pay your rent and food in April. What about May?”
And Graham commented: “I’d rather take that $250 billion and put it in a system that will give people sustainable income. Direct payments make sense when the economy is beginning to restart, makes no sense now because it’s just money.”
Do you focus the checks on taxpayers or help people who don’t pay income tax?
Everyone seems to agree that the wealthiest shouldn’t get checks. The Republican Senate bill proposes giving people who make $75,000 annually less money and those making at least $99,000 no money.
The Senate GOP bill also proposes giving less money, to none at all, to those on the opposite end of the economic ladder, who earn so little that they don’t pay income taxes.
There, we have a rare break between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House. The White House rather diplomatically told my colleagues it thinks that’s a bad idea, because it would ostensibly cut off giving cash to the people most likely to spend it:
A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity Friday to reveal internal thinking, said that, “For us, the construct and scope is not what we had in mind, and we’ll be talking with senators about the best way to deliver help quickly to Americans.”
There is significant conservative opposition to giving less money to lower-income earners. Here’s Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a conservative by any measure:
And here’s Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), one of the original Republican proponents of giving Americans checks directly.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), who led the conservative movement against the 2008 bank bailout, said he opposes just giving people money without shoring up more safety nets for those who lost their jobs — not unlike what Democrats want:
“I personally think that if we are going to help people, we ought to direct the cash payments maybe as a supplement to unemployment, not to the people that are still working every day,” Shelby said. “You know, just a blanket cash check to everybody in America that’s making up to $75,000, I don’t know the logic of that.”
Democratic leaders agree with these conservative senators. “We need a full unemployment insurance,” Schumer told reporters Friday, “so that when you’re laid off, you get paid your full salary and you can get on unemployment quickly, and it’s not just a one-time payment, but you keep getting money as long as you’re unemployed.”
It looks like with everyone but Senate Republican leaders in agreement on giving lower-income people $1,000 (or more), this could change quickly.
How do you responsibly bail out industry?
President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agree they should severely restrict how big industries spend this money, fearful of a repeat of the 2008 economic crisis, when some companies ended up buying back stocks to make things look good to investors (rather than investing the money in workers).
“I do, I really do,” President Trump said Thursday when asked if he would support the government’s taking equity stakes in private companies that it lends or gives money to in the wake of the coronavirus. That’s the surest way to ensure government control over how these companies spend the taxpayer money. He also said he would support being more skeptical of companies that did buybacks in 2008.
Pelosi is on the same page as Trump with much of that. She wants to ban companies from “buying back stock, rewarding executives and laying off workers.”
When asked by reporters Friday if his stance puts him more in line with congressional Democrats than lawmakers in his own party, Trump seemed to agree: “We’re not very far away,” he said.
But Senate Republican leadership, hewing to the party’s long-held free-market principles, is not prioritizing restrictions on companies that receive money. One of the only restrictions they placed is on pay increases for executives earning over $425,000 a year, reports The Post’s congressional team.
How do you help hospitals not get overwhelmed?
The Senate GOP bill does not address the severe shortage of critical-care beds and medical equipment on any large scale. Trump, under pressure from Democrats, said Friday that he is invoking a decades-old law to require U.S. manufacturers to start building equipment for hospitals. That could mean companies like General Motors or Tesla soon start pivoting from making cars to making ventilators and face masks.
But Democratic leaders want more. “We need a Marshall Plan for hospitals,” Schumer told reporters. He and Pelosi said in a joint statement that Congress needs to appropriate money to “rebuild our health-care infrastructure on a continental scale and ensure the resources are there to test and treat everyone who needs it.” They didn’t give a price tag, but suffice to say it could be extremely expensive.