US 'Can't Afford' $2,000 Stimulus Checks. O RLY?
As expected, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the first try at passing a standalone bill that would provide direct payments of $2,000 to most Americans who make less than $75,000 a year. The House passed the bill Monday, but when Minority Leader Chuck Schumer brought it up in the Senate yesterday to pass by unanimous consent, McConnell objected, and that was that, for the moment at least. Schumer and other Senate Democrats now have to try to get McConnell to bring the bill up for a full vote; if that happens (which is very unlikely), several Senate Republicans have said they'd vote for it, although it's not clear yet whether it would get the 12 Rs needed to pass the bill with a 60-vote, filibuster-stopping majority.
McConnell later came up with a bill that can't possibly get Democratic support; it combined the $2,000 direct payments to Americans with two other unrelated things Donald Trump has pretended to demand: repeal of a law protecting internet companies from lawsuits over user content (say goodbye to comments anywhere on the web), and creation of a commission to investigate all the voter fraud Donald Trump imagines happened in the November election. Because clearly those would both do wonders for people who are having a hard time keeping a roof over their heads.
Since most Republicans fret that we can't possibly afford payments that would provide immediate relief to millions of Americans, we figured this would be a good time to remind you of what America apparently could afford in the first round of stimulus. Funny, that involved a lot of money going to companies that were already doing quite well! Quelle surprise!
BREAKING: Ted Cruz Remains Asshole!
Let's start with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who last week was one of just six senators to vote against the stimulus bill, with its smaller $600 individual payments. Cruz said he voted against the combined package of the $900 billion stimulus and the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill because he just didn't like all that money in the omnibus bill, and also it was going to pass anyway so he could pretend that keeping the government operating until September is wasteful and bad.
In a statement, Cruz griped about "wasteful end-of-year spending" and numerous "pet projects" loaded into the bill, and, like his buddy Donald Trump, deliberately conflated the stimulus bill with the one funding operations that aren't part of the stimulus. Cruz claimed that "Democrats exploited the need for relief to advance their political agenda instead of working on legislation that puts our nation on the path to recovery," and then called for schools and businesses to reopen, plus tax cuts, always tax cuts.
So of course, that's the perfect preface to this Wall Street Journal story explaining that, when the first round of coronavirus aid in the CARES Act appeared to bar the Federal Reserve's "Mainstreet Lending Program" from helping out the Oil Bidniss, a couple of Cruz's biggest donors asked him to please get that rule changed.
And lo, it was so: Cruz sent letters to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Fed Chair Jerome Powell asking for the rules to be changed to help out frackers, and the rules were changed. The billionaire brothers, Dan and Farris Wilks, were able to obtain a $35 million loan for one of their many fracking companies. (If you're paywalled out of the Journal story, it's summarized quite well here.)
For those keeping score at home, that Fed program provided government-backed loans, which is different from the Paycheck Protection Program that gave small-business loans that could be forgiven if borrowers offered some proof the money was used to help keep operations going in the pandemic.
The Journal notes that at the time the Wilks brothers got that loan to save ProFrac Holdings LLC, their plucky little fracking and fracking accessories outfit (just "one slice of the sprawling portfolio of fracking businesses" they own), they were actually expanding their fracking business, seeking "deals among fracking firms going through bankruptcy" and investing in at least six other companies.
How nice for them!
The Journal says the Wilks brothers have been Cruz's biggest individual backers, and donated $15 million to the "Keeping the Promise" super PAC supporting Cruz's 2016 presidential run. That might seem like a favor Cruz did for them, one of those "pet projects" he so detests — but a spokesperson for Cruz's office explained Cruz had actually done a favor for America:
The result of his leadership was a program that has helped about 25 U.S. energy producers, including roughly a dozen in Texas, and helped protect over 300,000 oil and gas jobs in Texas.
Mind you, that 300,000 jobs figure is pretty much the entire number of people directly working in oil and gas in the state, not an estimate of how many jobs the rule change saved.
So hooray for Ted Cruz, champion of the common fracking billionaire! He won't let those filthy Dems spend your tax dollars on $2,000 checks to you and your layabout pals, because there are donors to be cared for.
Let's Not Forget All The Help For 'Small Businesses' That Were Just Branches Of Huge Businesses!
While Republicans worry about people who might get a check even though they might not be in terrible shape, let's also remember ProPublica's report in July about how big companies managed to rake in multiple PPP loans by pretending that every single one of their subsidiaries and LLCs were actually small businesses. Like for instance ...
Vibra Healthcare, a chain of hospitals and therapy centers spread across 19 states with over 9,000 employees. The biggest PPP loan was supposed to be $10 million, but Vibra found a way to land as much as $97 million.
In other contexts, Vibra boasts annual revenues of $1 billion, but when the company got in line to receive what is essentially free government money (the loans are forgivable), it made itself seem small. From Vibra's corporate address in Pennsylvania, 26 limited liability companies received PPP loans, 23 of them from the same bank, with almost all the loan approvals coming on the same day in April.
It was a fairly common practice, it turns out; ProPublica identified at least 15 big companies that played the LLC-is a-small-business game, to the tune of $516 billion.
You might want to keep that in mind the next time a Republican is yammering about how we can't afford the roughly $463 billion cost of boosting the individual stimulus payments from $600 per person to $2,000. That, or you should declare each room in your house an LLC.
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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.