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Analysis

Chaos in Washington kills hopes for major pre-election stimulus

Donald Trump abruptly called off his administration’s participation in negotiations with Congress over a highly-anticipated new pandemic relief bill that has been stalled for months. Talks between Congressional Democrats and Republicans along with senior White House officials had been revived in the days following Trump’s COVID diagnosis, but Trump’s move yesterday dramatically reverses the situation. 

Trump cited “Crazy Nancy Pelosi and the Radical Left Democrats’’” desire “to take care of Democrat failed, high crime, Cities and States” as the reason he did not want to negotiate further. Trump was likely referring here to proposed emergency financial assistance to local governments that are dealing with budgetary crises as a result of the pandemic. While there is in fact nothing “radical” or even particularly “left” about the Democrats, such payments have been strongly supported by public sector worker unions as a measure to avoid mass layoffs of municipal and state employees.  

There is still a great deal of confusion swirling around the process, however. Subsequent statements by administration figures and Trump himself later that day and into this morning have added to the chaos. About seven hours after he trashed negotiations, Trump demanded over Twitter that Congress “IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business.” Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said this morning that he and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin were working on “stand-alone bills to help airlines, small businesses and the American people, with stimulus checks.”

The political motivations behind Trump’s decision to pull out of negotiations is puzzling. Any economic relief measures that are implemented, or even just passed, prior to the November vote seems certain to bolster Trump’s re-election prospects. This is especially true for direct stimulus payments — who wouldn’t be happy to get a $1,200 check in the mail, even if it’s signed by Donald Trump? Instead he chose to withdraw from talks in a way that allows Democrats to unambiguously lay the blame for the lack of economic relief on his shoulders.   

Democrats: weak proposals, pathetic negotiations 

Tens of millions of workers in the United States are facing financial ruin. Over 60 million workers have lost their jobs since the economic crisis began in earnest in March. 17 million additional people have swelled the ranks of those suffering from hunger in the richest country in the history of the world. Up to 40 million people are facing eviction as landlords and banks demand payment from people who have no means to pay. 

While there are some important progressive measures contained in the “HEROES Act” passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in May, the dramatic measures that need to be taken to address a crisis of this scope are not even being considered. Workers need the cancellation of rent and mortgage payments with no accumulation of debt. Unemployed workers’ income needs to be fully restored. Instead of being used to bail out corporations, massive funding should be directed towards bolstering health infrastructure and creating the kind of test and trace system that can allow society to finally get control of the virus. 

Instead of rallying the country around a program of this type, which would be hugely popular, the Democrats’ leaders in Congress focused their messaging around how reasonable they were being. They emphasized how they had offered to reduce the size of their bill by $1 trillion, and that Trump and the Republicans were obligated to “meet in the middle”. 

Working people are now faced with a familiar scenario in Washington: complete indifference to their suffering on the part of the Republicans, and half-hearted support for half-measures from the Democrats. 

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