While the world is slowly starting to open up and move toward “normal,” it seems as if DC has already gotten there – politically at least. After passing four stimulus bills on a pretty bi-partisan basis – and racking up almost $3 trillion in spending – political divisions are beginning to show. What had typically been a bipartisan effort in each chamber, has suddenly become an exercise in political party messaging.
Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration are pushing a go-slow approach as only about half of the stimulus money has been spent so far. There are too many uncertainties about what is working and what might be needed down the road. They are also pushing to quickly get America open again, hoping that less stimulus will be needed once that happens.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, would like to spend more now. Never let a crisis go to waste! She eschewed working across party lines and instead put together a “wish list” of Democratic priorities to serve as a marker during the next round of stimulus negotiations. She also believed she could put pressure on the Republicans to act as the economy continues to crater, with nearly 39 million Americans losing their jobs in two months. For their part, they produced the Health Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, (text; section-by-section; one-pager; state and local fact sheet), a sweeping $3 trillion package approved by the House.
The bill includes:
- nearly $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments
- hazard pay for frontline workers
- a 15 percent increase in the SNAP benefit
- another round of relief checks of $1,200 per month to eligible individuals – which includes undocumented immigrants – up to $6,000 per household
- extends a top-up of $600 to be added to state unemployment benefits through January 2021
- $25 billion for the Postal Service
- $175 billion for families to pay their mortgages and rent
- money for mail-in voting efforts
- student loan forgiveness
- a two-year repeal of the cap on SALT deductions and a provision giving cannabis businesses access to bank accounts and loans.
As you can imagine, many of these provisions are not only anathema to the GOP but clearly intended to do political damage. A great example is the $600 plus up in unemployment payments, which would have a discouraging effect on the labor market, hampering a recovery right until the next president is inaugurated! But pressure is mounting for action, especially with those in tough reelection battles who want to be seen as helping their constituents. And while it has been reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Trump during a private meeting this week that the next piece of legislation has to be under $1 trillion, he is overseeing a divided caucus where many want to see greater spending – such as on infrastructure and aid to state and local governments – which will be hard to contain. The president is also interested in a large infrastructure deal.
So it’s looking like $4 trillion in spending at least before outside lobbyists and events push the spending even higher.
What do I mean by outside events? Can you say Green New Deal?
You may have seen the headlines that the world output of CO2 has dropped by 17% (over 30% in the US) to levels previously seen in 2006. While that number might seem significant, it means that the world still generated more than 80 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions that it did last year during the same period. Once the world returns to normal, scientists predict that the decline will be between 4 and 7 percent for the year. Why this matters? A United Nations report released last fall said that emissions must begin falling by 7.6 percent each year, starting this year, to avert the worst consequences of climate change.
The lead author of the study, Corinne Le Quéré, summed it where this is heading well. “We can see now that behavior change alone is not going to do it,” said Le Quéré. “There’s a lot of inertia in the infrastructure, in the built environment. … Where they put this stimulus is critical. It’s 2020, and there’s not much time to tackle climate change.” Many European leaders have already stated they’ll target much of their relief toward the greening of their economies.
And the anti-PATG group Patriotic Millionaires is also upping their game. They have hired their first outside lobbying firm. Mariah Sixkiller and Madison Strader of Sixkiller Consulting will lobby “in support of an economic relief plan that prioritizes the needs of working people during the COVID-19 crisis,” according to a disclosure filing. And they’re already urging Congress to mandate that private foundations payout 10 percent of their assets over the next three years as part of the next coronavirus relief bill, up 5 percent now.
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