Editorial: Millionaire Lawmakers Balk at $2000 One-Time Payment for Struggling Americans

Millions of jobless, struggling Americans have been waiting most of the year for Congress to pass a coronavirus emergency relief package. When lawmakers finally passed a bill that would, among other things, provide $600 one-time direct payments to qualifying Americans, Donald Trump declined to sign it, citing the “ridiculously low” amount of the direct payment. He was right; it is low, and if Trump were some other president, we might conclude that this move came from a place of caring about Americans. We’ve already learned, however, that “caring about Americans” is one of the last items on the minds of Trump and many GOP lawmakers.

For nearly nine months, Congress has been unable to agree on a second coronavirus relief bill to follow the March 2020 CARES Act, as Americans have slipped further into financial distress resulting from fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Democrats proposed a bill that included a $2000 one-time payment to qualifying Americans— the same amount Trump specified when he refused to sign the current bill. Republicans, however, some afraid that Americans would squander their stimulus checks, others citing “the deficit,” and others fearful that helping jobless Americans equals socialism, voted against the Democrats’ bill. 

Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called the proposal for more funds part of the Democrats’ “socialist agenda” to universal basic income.

“Now, we know that what the Democrats are trying to do with this is to put us on a pathway to a guaranteed minimum income, which is one of their socialist agenda items,” she said.

Republicans like Texas Representative Kevin Brady think Americans will spend their stimulus money “inappropriately.” Brady speculated that the money would go toward paying off credit-card debt and “new purchases online at Walmart, Best Buy, or Amazon,” and argued that the money should instead go toward helping small and midsized businesses. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to Brady, tweeting, “’I don’t support $2k survival checks because it might help people get out of debt that our gov’t inaction helped put or keep them in in the first place.’ – GOP Congressman.”

Just days before Christmas, when the House and Senate agreed on the compromise bill that included a one-time payment of $600, Trump tweeted his criticism of it, leaving lawmakers uncertain as to whether he would sign it, veto it, or simply let time run out on it. “$2000 + $2000 plus other family members. Not $600. Remember, it was China’s fault!” 

Trump criticized his own party, namely Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, for having proposed the $600 amount, on which all parties were led to believe Trump would sign off. Trump did end up signing the bill, without changes, on December 27, but by not signing the bill by Christmas, he allowed millions of Americans’ jobless benefits to lapse.

On December 28, the House passed a standalone bill to increase the one-time direct payments to Americans from $600 to $2000. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected it. 

“The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” said McConnell, whose net worth is estimated at $22.5 million.

McConnell has maneuvered to package the $2000 payment proposal in a bill that includes two other items Trump has called for: the establishment of a commission to study voter fraud; and the repeal of Section 230, which provides liability protections for technology companies and other firms.

Republicans who had previously opposed the $2000 direct payment are in a bind. On the one hand, they fear being out of alignment now with the president by voting against it. What’s more, how would it look to their constituents if they voted against it? On the other hand, they sure don’t want their constituents to get their hands on $2,000. 

Not to worry. McConnell is an old hand at tactical gambiteering. He’s pushing Americans deeper into financial desperation by holding up the bill, but that’s not what matters to McConnell.

Knowing that most Democrats are likely to vote against a package that includes a repeal of Section 230 and a provision for a voter fraud commission,  McConnell has set up the perfect scenario for Republicans. If the the bill doesn’t pass, or if the clock runs out on the proposed bill, GOP lawmakers would still be able to say that they supported the $2000 amount. They would also be able to point fingers at the Democrats for voting against relief for Americans. 

Chuck Schumer said out loud what Trump and McConnell already knew— that the additions to the bill would doom its passage. “Any move like this by Sen. McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check.”

Meanwhile, many private citizens are not sleeping at night, worried about how they’re going to make ends meet for another month, week, day. Nearly 12 million American renters will owe an average of $5850 in back rent and utilities by January. Millions of Americans are thousands of dollars behind in monthly expenses as a result of losing their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Still, GOP lawmakers think a one-time payment of $600, let alone $2000, is too much for them. 

“It’s much better for Congress to err on the side of helping too much than too little,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “There’s nothing scarier than losing your home, especially in January with a pandemic out of control. That would be overwhelming.”

One thing is clear, though: Republicans have shown that they are willing to go to great lengths creating hoops to jump through, and cracks to fall through, in order to avoid helping “too much.”

On the other hand, the GOP isn’t worried at all about enriching themselves, or giving tax breaks to large corporations. And when it comes to seizing the opportunity to look like they care about their constituents without actually having to care, that’s a sweet spot.

Here, it should be noted that, according to OpenSecrets Center for Responsive Politics, most members of the current Congress are millionaires, with a median net worth of $1,008,767. 

What will happen when millions of people are evicted in the coming months? What will happen to their children? How will people eat? This is not the concern of the GOP lawmakers. Their concern is that Americans won’t appropriately use the crumbs they’re thrown, and they’re willing to let the country go down in flames in order to throw as few crumbs as possible.

Editorial: Donald Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis Hasn’t Changed a Thing

Deep in our hearts, we knew that it would be too much to ask that Donald Trump, after testing positive for COVID-19, would have a change of mind in the way he has responded to the virus as a pandemic, or that he would begin to take the virus seriously. And now, many Americans, even the best among us, are also finding it too much to ask to offer thoughts and prayers, healing energy, or any other expression of wishes for Donald Trump to get well soon.

Maybe it would be different if Trump hadn’t downplayed the coronavirus for 10 months and allowed, without concern, more than 200,000 Americans to die. “It is what it is,” he said.

Maybe if he hadn’t politicized face masks, repeatedly made fun of them, and encouraged his supporters not to wear them, it would  have been easier to root for him in the first moments when we learned he was being hospitalized with the virus.

If Trump hadn’t encouraged people to rebel against public health guidelines and reinforced the idea that such guidelines were “tyranny” instead of common sense, maybe searches on the word, “schadenfreude” wouldn’t have shot up by 30,500 percent (according to Merriam-Webster) in the morning hours after learning of Trump’s positive COVID-19 result.

Maybe if Donald Trump hadn’t encouraged thousands of his supporters to gather closely together, maskless, to distribute droplets among themselves as they shouted their fealty to him, he wouldn’t have disgusted other Americans with how little he valued his supporters’ lives in comparison to their adulation; or how he places even less value on the lives of Americans who are not his supporters.

Maybe if he hadn’t participated, in person, in a presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden when he almost certainly knew he had been exposed to COVID-19, we’d wish Trump a good recovery as if he were a decent person.

We don’t have to wish Donald Trump ill, or pray that he suffers. We can just wish nothing at all. Still, it might be different, but for the grief, suffering, and loss that has resulted from his failure to lead during the coronavirus pandemic, and his callousness toward it.

Maybe if Trump hadn’t waited to talk about the coronavirus until it was him who became infected.

Maybe if he hadn’t carelessly exposed his secret service personnel to his sickness while he forced them to sit with him in a hermetically sealed car for the sake of a drive-by photo-op. Maybe if he hadn’t also disregarded the safety of the Marine One pilots who flew him to and from Walter Reed Medical Center; or his entire staff, from cleaning crew to senior aides— and their families.

Maybe if he had been honest with Americans from the beginning about his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Maybe if he hadn’t stood on the White House steps after demanding to leave the hospital, and taken off his mask for a photo-op, carelessly exposing more people in the White House to the coronavirus.

And maybe if he weren’t preparing to take health care away from millions of Americans by arguing the unconstitutionality of the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court.

Many Americans, whether wishing Donald Trump well, experiencing some schadenfreude about his diagnosis, or wishing him nothing at all, were still hopeful that, at last, Donald Trump would be forced to acknowledge the seriousness of COVID-19. Maybe a seed of empathy or caring would sprout from Trump’s firsthand experience with the virus. And surely, we thought, he’d begin urging people to wear masks and be cautious.

Instead, any hopefulness we may have had was met with Donald Trump’s tweet as he prepared to leave Walter Reed Medical Center: “I will be leaving the great Walter Reed Medical Center today at 6:30 P.M. Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!”

As if a helicopter ride, a fun drive-by photo-op, and a jaunt through the hospital with treatments that aren’t even available to other Americans, were in any way similar to the tragic, painful, debilitating experiences many other Americans have had with COVID-19.

COVID-19 cases are rising within the White House. The president has instructed aides to keep quiet about their positive test results, should they have them. He will no doubt return to mocking mask-wearing, and though CDC guidelines demand that he isolate himself for at least 10 days, he already has plans to return to the campaign trail. Trump has learned nothing, and his supporters, in turn, have learned nothing. COVID-19 infections and deaths will continue to escalate.

We don’t have to wish an ill fate on Donald Trump. We don’t even have to wish him anything at all. But, even following his positive COVID-19 test results, it’s difficult to muster any well wishes for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump to leave hospital after being treated for COVID-19 |
Sky News [2020-10-05]

Here’s what you need to know about President Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis | CNBC  [2020-10-05]