Photos by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons License 2.0

House Democrats released their proposal for a "Phase Four" economic stimulus bill Tuesday, calling for a new round of direct payments to most Americans, as well as support for state and local governments, more funding for coronavirus testing, and a bunch of other Democratic priorities that are — and we can't emphasize this strongly enough — not in any way about protecting big companies that allowed a deadly virus to infect to their workers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to have the House vote on the bill Friday, although its fate after that is uncertain, since Republicans have decided their next big plan to help Americans is Doing Nothing.

The Democratic bill, called the "Heroes Act" to emphasize its aid to frontline healthcare workers, may not have any immediate prospects of being enacted, but it's designed to pressure Republicans to get off their asses and negotiate a bipartisan stimulus package sooner, and of course to draw the contrast between the two parties: Democrats want to get help to Americans in a crisis, and Republicans want to protect meatpacking plants that have been making the outbreak worse.


Let's take a look at what all's in this stimmy (very detailed House Appropriations Committee summary here) :

Direct cash payments: The bill calls for another round of $1,200 checks to most Americans making up to $75,000 annually ($150,000 per couple), then progressively smaller checks to those making up to the cap of $99,000 a year. This time around, the payment per child will be $1,200 as well, for up to three kids. That's up from $600 in the CARES Act, and means a nice round maximum of $6000 per family. It also fixes a problem in the CARES Act, allowing payments to all taxpaying families, including immigrants who file tax returns using a taxpayer identification number instead of a Social Security number.

The plan doesn't include Pramila Jayapal's Paycheck Guarantee Act, which would have provided a steady paycheck to workers laid off during the economic shutdown. Jayapal and the other co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) are asking for a week's delay of the bill to review it further.

Extended unemployment insurance: This would extend the $600 per week in emergency unemployment insurance (UI), over whatever state UI benefits people are getting, through January 2021.

Aid to state and municipal governments: About a trillion dollars, because states have been hammered by this crisis.

Hazard pay for essential workers: A $200 billion "Heroes Fund" to make sure the often low-earning people putting their safety at risk will be able to keep their jobs and be fairly compensated.

Testing, tracing and treatment: $75 billion to ramp up coronavirus testing and contact tracing so states can allow safe reopening of businesses. Including funding to insure testing and treatment for COVID-19 is available at no cost.

Nutritional and housing aid: Increases food stamp benefits by 15 percent, provides additional funding for other food programs, and provides $175 billion to help with rent, mortgage, and utility payments.

Healthcare: Provides funding for people who've lost their job-based insurance to keep their coverage through COBRA, and since Donald Trump hasn't seen fit to do it, opens up the Obamacare insurance exchanges for a special enrollment period.

Postal Service, census, and election funding: $25 billion to keep the Postal Service alive (fuck you Trump), plus funding to the Census Bureau to help with delays resulting from the 'rona, as well as aid to states so they can hold elections safely. (This doesn't appear to include a plan for national vote-by-mail, however.)

Worker Safety: This is YUGE! Directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has been largely AWOL by design under Trump, to "issue a strong, enforceable standard within seven days to require all workplaces to develop and implement infection control plans based on CDC expertise," so that worker safety isn't left up to the kindness of the management. Also includes protection against retaliation for workers who report problems with infection control.

This also gives the House an answer to Mitch McConnell's demand for a liability shield against lawsuits: Instead of waiving liability for negligent employers, says Pelosi, companies won't have to worry about being sued as long as they're compliant with OSHA guidelines. And then she smiled sweetly, because she knows damn well McConnell is out to protect the negligent companies.

Mind you, some members of the Senate brain trust, like John Kennedy (R-Louisiana), worry that OSHA setting safety standards for a disease outbreak would mean everyone would have to bow down to OSHA regulators in their own homes.

Maybe he thinks OSHA will start regulating your bathroom if you work at home?

Republicans are already declaring the House proposal "dead on arrival" in the Senate, just like an uninsured meat plant worker who keeps working until their symptoms are so bad that they're sent home and later found by a neighbor on the floor, in acute respiratory distress.

McConnell rejected the bill, calling it a "a big laundry list of pet priorities" and dismissing it as "exactly the wrong approach," although he appears not to have explained why getting money to Americans in an economic crisis is wrong. Instead, McConnell offered an impressive metaphor for why virus-spreading meat companies need help: we must prevent "a second epidemic of frivolous lawsuits." It's nice to know he cares so much.

Similarly, a spokesdrone for Senate Finance Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Senate Republicans would consider "Phase 4 legislation if it becomes necessary," but that it's simply "too early to say what that legislation might encompass" just yet. What's the rush? We only have Great Depression levels of unemployment, but maybe once everyone decides to go back to unsafe workplaces, everything will be just fine. Other Senate Republicans mostly told CNN they didn't see any need to even consider a new stimulus bill until after the week-long Memorial Day recess; John Cornyn (R-Texas) said there was no "urgency" to pass anything now. Wait until June and we'll see.

After all, there's just one thing that will really help Americans get through this pandemic: confirming a whole lot more rightwing federal judges.

[House Appropriations Committee / Appropriations Committee bill summary / CNN / NBC News / WaPo / Image credit: Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, both by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

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.

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