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Nevada Today

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2020 ElectionCOVID-19EditorialsNews and informationThe Economy

This COVID-19 Recession Didn’t Have to Be This Severe

To hardly anyone’s surprise, any remaining hope for a new federal COVID-19 economic relief package is almost certainly dead. This is nothing short of an American tragedy, yet this has been a mostly preventable tragedy. Please continue reading as I explain why. 

No, there’s no “stimulus deal in sight”. Here’s why.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the actual state of play on Capitol Hill, as opposed to the constant spin emanating from the White House, any chance of continued relief funding probably died once U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) announced that he had no interest in even scheduling a committee hearing on the HEROES Act that the House had just passed, let alone bringing it to the Senate floor. 

But then again, as David Dayen and Robert Kuttner have pointed out at The American Prospect, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has repeatedly squandered potential opportunities to try to force McConnell’s and President Donald Trump’s hands on COVID-19 relief funding. Back when the Families First Act and the CARES Act were being put together in March, Democratic leaders agreed to Republican demands for July expiration dates for the Medicaid FMAP boost and unemployment income expansion, even as they also agreed to Republican demands for a permanent $4.5 trillion corporate relief fund.

Donald Trump, COVID-19
Photo by Andrew Davey

Then when Republicans sought an extension for just the PPP small business assistance program, Democratic leaders managed to secure another $100 billion in health care funding, but punted again on unemployment, fiscal aid for state and local governments, other critical social safety net needs (such as food and housing), and even those $1,200+ “corona checks” that dominated so much of the media spotlight earlier this year. So by the time Pelosi unveiled the HEROES Act and got it passed (by the House) in May, McConnell and the Trump administration turned down the HEROES Act completely because they already got everything they wanted. 

But then, another potential opportunity materialized with the September 30 federal budget deadline. Yet even as Trump and Congressional Republican leaders scrambled to avoid another government shutdown just weeks before the election, Pelosi ultimately cut a deal with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on a mostly “clean” continuing resolution to keep the federal government up and running through mid-December. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s what American Democrats can learn from these (New) Democrats.

A scandal-plagued incumbent comes way too dangerously close to COVID-19 himself, and he… Stop right there. That’s where Canada’s story breaks far away from ours. Even as our federal government remains stuck in quagmire, theirs is actually investing in medical and financial recovery efforts. 

Unlike the rapid normalization of corruption we’ve witnessed during President Donald Trump’s term here, Canadians have reacted more strongly to the multiple scandals that have bogged down Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Yet just as Trudeau faced the risk of losing a “no confidence” vote in Parliament that would have triggered a new election, his Liberal Party government struck a deal with the more leftist New Democratic Party (NDP) to extend paid sick leave to all Canadian workers in exchange for the NDP joining with the Liberals to keep Trudeau’s government in place. (Because Liberals don’t have an absolute majority of seats in parliament, they regularly need support from other parties to keep their government in place.)

Last month, Trudeau promised to tax “extreme wealth” to tackle systemic inequality and fund continued comprehensive COVID-19 relief efforts. On top of all that, Trudeau and his cabinet have also recently pledged more money for testing and contact tracing in Quebec and Ontario (where Liberals traditionally do well) alongside Alberta (where Liberals won zero parliamentary seats in last year’s federal election).

I can’t overstate the massive difference between the Canadian government’s approach on COVID-19 relief efforts and ours. While Canada’s response hasn’t always been smooth or perfect, their government has generally succeeded where ours has failed because they have been more ready, willing, and able to base their policies on sound science and economics rather than the kind of magical thinking and crude money grabs that have plagued ours. In addition where Democrats in our Congress have struggled to exert influence over federal COVID-19 policies, Canada’s NDP saw an opportunity to prod the Liberal minority government to do more, and Canada’s NDP actually seized that opportunity. 

Stop the spin. Focus on reality.

Stop paying attention to Wall Street traders who spread rumors about a “stimulus deal”. Stop sharing sketchy YouTube videos featuring various rando’s talking up “new stimulus money”. And please, for the love of whichever deities (if any) you prefer to worship, stop treating Donald Trump’s erratic tweets like they’re anything more than campaign ads. 

Regardless of what Trump says about “new $1,200 stimulus checks”, another round of one-time “corona checks/stimulus checks” alone is nowhere near enough to tackle the “American Carnage” he’s wrought by refusing to properly contain COVID-19. According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 32% of American adults have struggled to cover basic household expenses (such as housing, food, and health care), and this figure jumps to 40% for households with children. And according to recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the July 31 expiration of the CARES Act’s $600 weekly unemployment income boost has resulted in a $667 billion cut to Americans’ purchasing power.

I don’t know how much more I’ll need to repeat myself, but here goes: Without sufficient federal funding to contain COVID-19 and help Americans who have lost work and/or income as a result of this pandemic, Trump’s tweets are nothing more than propaganda. And absent sufficient pressure from Democratic leaders to force Republicans to the conference committee room or some other negotiating table on the HEROES Act, we will remain stuck in this “K-shaped recovery” where wealthy investors manage to stay afloat in this COVID-19 recession while working-class people (especially those who are now out of work) continue to drown.

While $1,200 “corona checks” and a $25 billion airline bailout wouldn’t necessarily hurt the economy, they alone are nowhere near enough to prevent further widespread economic collapse. Now is not the time for piecemeal “stimulus deals” or time-wasting “messaging bills”. Now is the time to save America from further unnecessary pain and suffering.

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