Congressional leaders moved rapidly last week toward an acceptable, but far from perfect, short-term solution to the economic crisis now enveloping the nation. There were healthy signs of bipartisan cooperation as well as an open willingness among some top Republicans to challenge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s stranglehold on legislation. Independent, clear-headed, rational analysis among Republican and Democrat lawmakers is essential to devising a rescue package that provides maximum levels of help to those who need it most.
It’s also essential that lawmakers take care not to prioritize help for those who need it the least, such as wealthy Americans and large corporations that abused the financial assistance they received after the 2008 economic meltdown.
The mass shutdown of the American economy during this coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything in the nation’s experience. Hard-hearted fallback positions of the past — that individuals are responsible for their own joblessness or financial stress — simply do not apply here.
“We are facing the abyss,” says Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. “We are facing circumstances for which there is no playbook.”
Millions of people who three weeks ago were firmly ensconced in their jobs, working hard and celebrating the country’s economic resurgence, are now bracing for layoffs and severe hardship. The government, for understandable reasons, forced this shutdown on American workers. The government aid that now must be dispensed generously is not welfare. It is essential to avert another Great Depression.
But it’s also essential for the funding to be distributed carefully, not simply flung to the masses. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, correctly challenged McConnell’s plan for a single, direct payment of $1,200 per adult and $500 for every child in qualifying households. “Direct payments make sense when an economy is beginning to restart. … What I want is income, not one check. I want you to get a check you count on every week, not one week,” Graham said.
McConnell also got pushback for a bid to put tighter restrictions on the amount paid to the nation’s poorest families, as if they need less help than others.
Sen. Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican known for his unquestioning loyalty to McConnell and President Donald Trump, raised a rare objection: “Relief to families in this emergency shouldn’t be regressive. Lower income families shouldn’t be penalized,” he tweeted.
Congress also is putting heavy emphasis on forgivable loans to small businesses, whose survival will be essential to reviving American neighborhoods once shutdowns are lifted. Tighter restrictions are necessary on aid for large corporations to ensure they don’t hoard assistance or use it for stock buybacks that only reward shareholders instead of workers.