With "phase 2" of the coronavirus response legislation finally completed by the Senate, the construction of phase 3 is in full swing, with Democrats working the refs—in this case Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—to make sure that Mitch McConnell doesn't succeed in his plan to shut them out of the effort.
Democrats have a lot of important proposals, like the one unveiled Thursday to eliminate student loan angst for borrowers for the duration of the crisis by cancelling their payments and giving them a minimum of $10,000 of relief from their loan obligation. They also want to make sure that a broader sick leave policy than what phase 2 ended up with is included, among other efforts.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in talks with both Mnuchin and McConnell, who is attempting to sideline her and work only with his Republicans, and then once they've got a package, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. He says Schumer can keep Pelosi "in the loop." Pelosi is persisting, however, in creating a Democratic plan to "include additional unemployment insurance payments, expanded Medicaid coverage, an airline rescue package, relief for homeowners and renters, support for small businesses, and additional food security measures, according to Democratic lawmakers and aides." McConnell, thus far, is refusing a "four corners" negotiation with House and Senate bipartisan leadership.
Republicans are going to push something like $500 billion in direct cash payments to millions of Americans, means-tested for the "middle class down." McConnell argues this will mean "No tangled Washington process with 1,000 cooks in the kitchen. No piles of forms for laid-off workers or busy families." Except for the process and piles of forms for people proving they are "middle class" or below. Giving it to everyone, then clawing it back from higher-earners after the fact in new taxes would be a lot more efficient in the heat of this emergency. Anyway, there's going to be an effort by Republicans to offer up this cash payment—discussions range from a one-time $1,000 to two months at $2,000 or $4,000 or more for individuals and families—as a sop to also include big bailouts for the industries the have been demanding them, from the airlines to the casinos and hotels on down.
Schumer and Pelosi, along with all their rank-and-file Democrats have been insisting that there cannot be bailouts for industry unless the people who make those industries run—all the millions of employees—are taken care of first. From halting student loan and mortgage and rent payments to providing adequate unemployment insurance and food assistance and health coverage—that's at least as important as the direct cash payments for making sure this society comes out the other end of the crisis even remotely intact.
That's the kind of existential thinking our lawmakers have to be doing. Let's hope they're up to the task. Thus far, McConnell's extreme partisanship in the process doesn't bode well.