While Republican senators were introducing their respective pieces of the new "coronavirus relief" bill Mitch McConnell has cooked up, called the HEALS Act (Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer "to begin formal negotiations," which really shows where the power to pass the new bill lies. Because what McConnell offered up is beyond ridiculous and doesn't even have the support of probably half of his conference.
It has the support of absolutely no Democrats. Sen. Bernie Sanders summed up just how dead on arrival it is in a tweet detailing what's in it: $2 billion for F-35s, $1.75 billion for an FBI building, $1 billion for surveillance planes, $375 million for armored vehicles, $360 million for missile defense, $283 million for Apache helicopters, and $0 for millions facing eviction. That sounds like a whole bunch of sweeteners McConnell had to throw in to get Trump appeased for not getting his payroll tax cut. The stuff in it that's actually related to the COVID-19 crisis is really, really inadequate. It does one good, modest thing—the $1,200 direct payment is back, and here's where they did the one good thing, children over age 17 will now be eligible for the $500 dependent payment. That's pretty much the whole of the good.
In addition to the larding up of a public health bill with armaments and Trump bribes, it excludes increases in food assistance, rental assistance, student loan help, pretty much anything that helps. It does include a cut to the weekly unemployment insurance (UI) boost from $600 to $200 temporarily while states set up a system to pay people 70% of their previous income, which the Republicans want them to do in the next two months. State unemployment officials have united in opposition to that idea as completely unworkable. How bad is it? The Republican labor commissioner in Georgia, Mark Butler, calls it "the dumbest idea ever." He says “We’re not the IRS. We don’t have your taxes. We don’t know what you made last year. Our stuff is based on you getting laid off by a particular employer and them reporting to us about what the wages are.” So there's that.
That's the sum total of how they plan to help people. They also include at least $100 billion more for the problematic Paycheck Protection Program. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) There is no new money for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, just some tweaking of the restrictions on the previous $150 billion that was provided in the CARES Act so states have more flexibility. The only new money directed to states is for schools, a large portion of it restricted to go only to schools that physically reopen. It also has McConnell's obsession, five-years of liability protection for businesses, healthcare providers, and others who might expose people to coronavirus infection.
The stuff, beyond military toys to make Trump happy, include an increase in business tax deductions for meals and entertainment. Presumably at Trump properties. Because so many people are now thinking, "you know, if I could just deduct the full cost of a meal it would be worth going to a restaurant and exposing myself to a potentially fatal virus." That, it turns out, is why there's also that new FBI building money included this bill. For years, Trump has been obsessing over a new headquarters to be built in downtown D.C. The problem isn't the new building, everyone agrees the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building needs replacing. The pre-Trump plan was a suburban campus, which was nixed by Trump. That decision is still being investigated by the Justice Department's inspector general because what seems to be behind Trump's move is the fear that the feds selling off the spot where the current building is to a developer that would build a hotel on the site, one block from Trump's D.C. hotel. Because everything is always going to be about the Trump grift.
This is a bad bill. It is an unacceptable bill for Democrats, which is one point of agreement with half of McConnell's Republicans. They're just coming from different angles on how bad it is. Democrats are rejecting it because it does basically nothing to help people and Republicans because it spends some money on people. “There is significant resistance to yet another trillion dollars,” said Sen. Ted Cruz “The answer to these challenges will not simply be shoveling cash out of Washington; the answer to these challenges will be getting people back to work.”
Democrats are starting from their HEROES Act, which includes much higher UI benefits' hundreds of billions in state and local aid; hazard pay for essential workers; billions for the Postal Service; a 15% boost to food stamps; and $100 billion for renters as well as a moratorium on all evictions for the remainder of this year. For a start. This Republican bill, which has taken McConnell two and a half months to cobble together, after critical assistance deadlines have already passed, has been a phenomenal waste of time. Now the real work begins.