$500 Billion Corporate Slush Fund Stalls Pandemic Aid Bill. McConnell Blames Greedy Democrats
A procedural vote on the Republicans' $2 trillion economic stimulus bill failed in the Senate last night after Mitch McConnell brought up the measure even though he knew he didn't have the votes to pass it. The vote to expedite legislation fell far short of the 60 votes it needed, with a 47-to-47-vote tie. Complicating matters for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the fact that five Republican senators are now in quarantine and unable to show up to vote. Rand Paul's trip to the Senate swimming pool yesterday may mean the virus could spread.
Republicans and Democrats agree on many of the broad goals in the bill, like support for small businesses, money to shore up hospitals and state unemployment systems, and checks that would be sent to all Americans to help them get through the economic downturn the coronavirus pandemic has caused.
But one huge part of the proposal, a $500 billion fund that could be distributed to states and corporations at the Treasury Department's discretion, lacks safeguards against bad corporate behavior — like taking the money and then laying off most of their workforce. Democrats weren't about to support that, and wanted to add at least some of Elizabeth Warren's proposed limits on how the bailout money could be used. Instead, McConnell forced last night's vote, and scheduled a second vote today even though negotiations are still ongoing.
So here's why a coronavirus relief bill is stalled: 1) Republicans proposed a no-strings giveaway to corporations that want the Trump administration to make sweet money love to them. 2) Democrats said fuck no to that. 3) Nonetheless, Democrats said they wanted to keep working toward a bill, by adding in better protections for labor and taxpayers. 4) Knowing he didn't have 60 votes to move the bill forward, Mitch McConnell brought it to a vote anyway, so that it would fail and he could blame Democrats. 5) McConnell professed to be shocked, shocked to learn someone was playing politics with the pandemic.
Here's McConnell tsk-tsking about the mean Democrats who are playing politics by refusing to go along with his very partisan bill, cynically accusing Democrats of cynically playing politics. Just to be especially assholish about it, McConnell said the next vote — for which he still doesn't have support — would be forced through 15 minutes after the markets open (now without traders on the floor).
This sort of hypocrisy — introducing a bill with partisan priorities, forcing a vote on it even without the votes to pass it, then decrying "partisanship" when people object — should be memorialized as a rhetorical term. The McConnell Fallacy?
It looks like McConnell's threatened 9:45 AM vote didn't actually happen, so there's that. NBC reports that Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were still scheduled to negotiate a deal that would include conditions on the bailout to corporations. Schumer explained the shortcomings of the bill as of 12:20 this morning, eastern time, according to Politico:
There were some serious problems with the bill leader McConnell laid down. Huge amounts of corporate bailout funds without restrictions or without oversight — you wouldn't even know who is getting the money. Not enough money for hospitals, nurses, [personal protective equipment], masks — all the health care needs. No money for state and local government, many of whom would go broke.
Still, Schumer said he was "very hopeful, is how I'd put it, that we can get a bill in the morning."
Here are the basics of what the current version of the bill would include, as summarized by the Washington Post:
The bill would seek to flood the economy with money in an effort to protect millions of jobs and businesses that appear to be on the brink. It would direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and $500 to children. It would steer $350 billion toward small businesses to stem the tide of layoffs and push billions more toward hospitals and the unemployment insurance system. And it would create a massive $500 billion program for businesses, states and localities, with the direction and velocity of this loan program left mostly to the Treasury Department's discretion
Since the negotiations are still ongoing, supposedly, it's not clear to us yet whether McConnell is insisting on another dollop of shit that was in the original proposal, which would have given poorer families only a $600 check per adult based on the fact that poors pay less taxes. We simply haven't seen any updates on where that stands.
As for the half-trillion dollar fund the Treasury would be able to dole out, with $75 billion for hospitals, and $425 billion of it going to states and corporations, Politico has a nice explainer here on why it doesn't pass the smell test for Dems. No, it's not because it fails to institute socialism. It's because it doesn't include guidelines on how the bailout money can be used.
Warren explained to NPR why she couldn't support the Republican slush fund for Friends Of Trump:
The taxpayer has a right to know that if the Trump administration wants to hand out $450 billion in a bailout to giant corporations, then by golly they have a right to know that that money is going to help workers, not to increase executive compensation or to boost returns to shareholders.
($450 billion? Warren seems to be rounding up. Shame and scandal!) As it stands now, the bill doesn't require companies to maintain their payrolls or benefits, doesn't include prohibitions on the funds being wasted on stock buybacks (which is where most of the 2017 tax cut went), no limits on CEO compensation, and no requirements that companies preserve existing collective bargaining agreements. Warren noted nothing in the proposal precludes a company from getting a big bailout payment and then firing all its workers, and referred again to her list of requirements for any such deal.
Just how bad is the slush fund proposal? Look who's saying it's too damn tilted toward the investor class:
"They're throwing caution to the wind for average workers and people on Main Street and going balls to the wall for people on Wall Street," Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said of Republicans.
If it's too friendly to corporate interests for Joe Manchin, it's too damn friendly to corporations.
Donald Trump His Own Self made noises that sounded like he'd be OK with more strings on the fund, not that what he said necessarily means anything at all.
"I don't want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus," Trump said. "So I may be Republican, but I don't like that. I want them to use the money for the workers."
Not that Donald Trump ever sticks to his vows to defy other Republicans (see immigration and guns, for instance), but there it is for your "look what he said back on ..." file for March 22. Hell, this time he didn't even say he'd "take the heat" for stepping briefly out of line.
Fortunately, Senate Republicans are taking the crisis very seriously. Here's Sen John Cornyn (R-Texas) offering a thoughtful, principled reply to Schumer's criticism of the protections for workers:
It's unclear where the Republican clusterfuck and blamethrowing will go today; probably with another drop in the markets, which appears to be what McConnell wants by forcing votes before the votes are there. Then the man who took a three-day weekend before allowing a vote on the first coronavirus funding bill can complain about Democratic foot-dragging. And in the House, Nancy Pelosi is talking about putting forth a Democratic version of an economic stimulus bill, so get ready for more complaints of partisanship.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.