DYSART: Bipartisan conflict hinders urgent economic stimulus response

Both+the+House+of+Representatives+and+the+Senate+are+proposing+bills+to+help+the+American+public+in+response+to+the+coronavirus+outbreak.+Photo+via+Flickr.+

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate are proposing bills to help the American public in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Photo via Flickr.

Bipartisan disagreement hindered Congress from providing urgent, critical aid to the American people in response to economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Last Sunday, the Senate held a procedural vote debating an economic relief package in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The hope was to get at least 60 votes in favor of the bill to fast track its passing the following day.  

Senate Democrats blocked the movement on the stimulus package Sunday due to perceived incompetencies in health care and unemployment aid, and a lack of restrictions on a $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations. Democrats viewed emergency federal funding for corporations as a bailout with insufficient protections for workers. 

The 47-47 vote on the bill highlighted a bipartisan divide where frustrated lawmakers navigated the turbulence between quickly providing aid versus crafting the most adequate stimulus package for the American people. 

As of Monday, March 23 the CDC reported 33,453 cases of the coronavirus and a death toll of 400. Goldman Sachs predicted layoffs could lead approximately 2.25 million Americans to enter claims for unemployment benefits this week. Government standstill in providing relief only compounds the safety and financial threat posed to the population by the coronavirus.  That standstill carried over to Monday’s debates.

Despite ongoing bipartisan negotiations, the Senate failed to pass the bill on its second attempt Monday afternoon. The bill would provide billions of dollars to hospitals, give checks to millions of families, prevent layoffs and offer relief to small businesses. Democrats continued to argue for a “workers first” framework focused on meeting the needs of health care workers and newly unemployed Americans. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asserted the bill “still includes something most Americans don’t want to see: large corporate bailouts with almost no strings attached.”

With lives at stake and livelihoods threatened, the American people needed and expected immediate government action. The U.S. government failed them.

The American public impatiently awaited Congress’ passing of the third proposed emergency response stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The $2 trillion package is going to be the largest in history — larger than the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008 and the $787 billion Recovery Act of 2009 combined, according to ABC.

According to the National Review, Republicans accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of undermining days of productive negotiations in the Senate through the introduction of an alternate stimulus plan unveiled Monday. This version of the bill included differences from the GOP version such as the provision of larger direct payments of $1,500 rather than $1,200 per person, $150 billion for health care providers and health centers, $80 billion in low-interest loans to hospitals and $242 billion of funding to federal agencies rather than the GOP’s proposed $46 billion. 

Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Monday that the House Democrats’ bill also included an “ideologically-driven wish list” of Democratic policies that have “absolutely nothing to do with the public health emergency that we face at this moment,” including more strict fuel emissions guidelines for airlines, wind and solar tax credits, and collective bargaining powers for unions. 

“Eleventh-hour demands that Democrats have decided are more important than people’s paychecks,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “They ought to be embarrassed.”

Despite good intentions behind these policy items, the Democrats’ addition to the proposed bill did nothing to speed up the process of getting Americans the aid they need. Democrats should have been aware that such left-leaning policies would not be well received by Republicans. Though the U.S. definitely has more work to do in areas like environmental policy, the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic and deterioration of the national economy leaves no extra time for lawmakers to sidetrack on such issues.  

According to Roll Call — a newspaper and website that covers politics and legislature from Washington, D.C. — Democrats fired back at Republicans for their own tangential, last-minute policy additions such as a yearlong extension of a sexual abstinence education program and a prohibition of nonprofits that get Medicaid funding from receiving small-business loans under the bill. 

As sectors like the restaurant and retail industry see less business, it is the most financially vulnerable Americans who live paycheck to paycheck on part-time, low-wage jobs that are most at risk. These workers do not have the privilege of working remotely.  

The unrelenting spread of the coronavirus and the impending threat to the livelihoods of millions of Americans makes the need for a bipartisan compromise on relief more important than ever. Regardless of good intentions, there is no excuse for either party to focus on partisan agenda provisions that do not directly address the health, safety and financial well-being of the American people. 

Health care workers are faced with a shortage of key medical supplies like masks, testing swabs and surgical gowns due to a drop of imports of those products from China. According to the AP, hand sanitizer and swab imports both dropped by 40% in the past month and medical-grade N95 mask imports dropped 55%. The Dow Jones saw its largest drop in history Monday, falling 2013.76 points. The U.S. Department of Labor reported unemployment rates shot up more than 33% last week, higher than any week-to-week spikes seen during the Great Recession. 

Lives are on the line. This is urgent. It is Congress’ duty to implement a financial stimulus plan immediately.   

This story was written by Annie Dysart. She can be reached at anne.dysart@marquette.edu.