Give Americans another check
The ball was over long before midnight. The astonished footmen were overjoyed to find themselves mice once again, and so was the would-be princess. Only the lonely pumpkin gathering weeds behind the house wished that the revels had continued.
While it was inevitable that Republicans who tacitly approved of Donald Trump's unilateral suspension of student loan payments and his eviction moratorium would revert to deficit scaremongering and "limited government" when he left office, it is hard not to be astonished at the speed of their reverse-metamorphosis. At the height of the campaign, when a stimulus bill featuring another round of direct four-figure payments to Americans might have made the difference for their party's candidate, they shrugged. Now they are making common cause with a handful of centrist Democrats to argue that an arbitrary figure — $908 billion — is the most that the federal government can possibly afford to spend on a new stimulus package. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has made it clear that his top priority is liability protection for businesses.
This new austerity is a preview of what we can expect during the first four years of Joe Biden's presidency. So too, I hope, is the opposition to it from the most progressive and the most reactionary personalities in the Senate respectively. As I write this, Bernie Sanders and Josh Hawley, who recently met to discuss the issue, are arguing that any stimulus package that does not contain another round of direct payments to Americans is not worth voting for and should be vetoed by Trump. A good rule of thumb in American politics is that if these two agree about something, it is probably right.
In the small town where I live, I recently saw a bartender I know working the checkout counter at a home improvement chain. She told me that after the first round of lockdowns back in March the owner of the bar where she works had given her and her fellow servers two weeks' worth of their expected tips. But margins are exceedingly narrow in the restaurant business, and heading into December without any prospect of re-opening in sight, he is staring down the possibility of closing down for good. There may not be a job waiting for her in January or February. Should she sell her car? Move back in with her parents? Cancel her wedding? Expanded unemployment benefits of the sort proposed in the latest compromise relief bill will not help her because she is already employed, albeit in a job that pays substantially less than her old one.
Millions of similar stories could be told by working-class people across the country; the plight of unskilled workers in the service industry cuts across geographical, racial, and other supposed divisions in American life. The fact that it is exceedingly difficult for the leadership of the GOP to imagine that $1,200 could make a real difference for these people is perhaps the ultimate indictment of the party.
The truth is that, in order to forestall another economic depression, we need most of the things being proposed by both sides in the ongoing negotiations: liability protection to prevent a decade of welfare for ambulance-chasing lawyers; aid to state and local governments; assistance for small businesses, especially restaurants, 100,000 of which have closed in the last six months; an ongoing moratorium on evictions and debt collection; and direct cash payments to the American people.
Does Trump understand this? More to the point: Does he care at this point? I suspect we will never know. But he does know that the likelihood of broad-based economic relief will become vastly more likely after his successor is sworn in next year. Instead of giving Biden the credit, he should take this final opportunity to exhibit munificence, a virtue for which his adopted party has never been conspicuous.