The emergency coronavirus legislation that the Senate agreed to on Tuesday can only be described as an outrage. It is not an economic rescue package, but a sentence of unprecedented economic inequality and corporate control over our politics that will resonate for a generation.
It represents a transfer of wealth and power to the super rich from the rest of us, with the support of both political parties ― a damning statement about the condition of American democracy.
The bill permits bailed out companies to lay off up to 10% of their workforce over the next six months, with no restrictions thereafter. Mnuchin would have the authority to waive any upside for the public in its new investments, and the bill’s restrictions on stock buybacks at bailed-out firms are too temporary to be significant. Bailed out companies could even pay dividends to their shareholders.
In exchange for this takeover, Democrats got four months of more generous unemployment benefits for the millions who will be laid off and a one-time check of $1,200 per adult, eliminating a Republican restriction that would have limited poor people to just $600 and phasing out payments for six-figure incomes. These are not bad provisions, but they pale in comparison to the handout offered to the rich.
“$1,200 isn’t enough,” the Economic Security Project, a liberal think tank, tweeted on Wednesday. By agreeing to the deal, Senate Democrats in effect accept a horrendous future in exchange for a somewhat less burdensome present.
Working people, by contrast, do not have time to wait. The coronavirus layoffs have already begun, and when official numbers begin rolling in on Thursday, they will be shocking. Democrats and Republicans have essentially decided to hold a pittance of relief for the people hit hardest hostage to the most reckless and, at the moment, unnecessary corporate welfare program ever conceived.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) boasted that the package is “a wartime level of investment into our nation.” But nothing about the legislation resembles the way a nation prepares for an ambitious military operation. The legislation provides nothing of substance to address the coronavirus pandemic itself. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has already said the package will do next to nothing to assuage the disaster unfolding in his state. It mobilizes no new resources, organizes no production, improves no medical supply delivery and trains no new nurses. Instead, it moves an enormous amount of money around and puts the Trump administration in charge of its movement.
We live in an era in which the wealthy and the well-connected dominate almost every aspect of our society. The rich not only live different lives than the rest of us ― they live significantly longer lives, a trend that is likely to be exacerbated as the medical system cracks under the pressure of the incoming coronavirus caseloads and as working people lose access to basic care.
“We will be lucky if most small businesses see any assistance in less than two months,” law professors Adam Levitin and Satyam Khanna wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday. “That is time they — and their employees — do not have.” As with the bank bailouts, big companies will grow larger and more profitable and demand further control over the way that we still believe democracy for all.