Senate Republicans leave town as the clock expires on CARES Act benefits

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On Thursday, the United States reached a grim milestone of 4 million coronavirus cases, doubling the total number of infections in just six weeks as deaths and hospitalizations continue a sharp rise in many states. The rolling seven-day average of infections has doubled in less than a month, reaching more than 66,000 new cases per day Wednesday. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000.

On Thursday, the Department of Labor reported the number of new unemployment claims rose for the first time in months last week, to 1.4 million nationwide last week. Another 980,000 new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims were filed, the benefits offered to self-employed and gig workers. New unemployment insurance claims rise for the first time since March.

The federal moratorium that has protected an estimated 12 million renters from eviction for four months is expiring today (Arizona’s state moratorium has been extended to October 31). A federal eviction moratorium is ending, putting 12 million renters at risk:

Of the 110 million Americans living in rental households, 20 percent are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, according to an analysis by the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project, a Colorado-based community group. African American and Hispanic renters are expected to be hit hardest.

The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits, provided by the federal government on top of whatever unemployment assistance states provide, is set to expire July 31, though this is the last week recipients will get the extra funds through the July 25 or 26 pay period. Jobless claims rise as cutoff of extra $600 benefit nears:

It is the last major source of economic help from the $2 trillion relief package that Congress approved in March. A small business lending program and one-time $1,200 payment have largely run their course.

With the count of U.S. infections passing 4 million and the aid ending, nearly 30 million unemployed people could struggle to pay rent, utilities or other bills, and economists worry that overall consumer spending will drop, adding another economic blow.

Bzzzzt! The clock has expired, game over.

The Republican controlled Senate and the Trump White House pissed away ten weeks since the House passed the Heroes Act in May, and couldn’t get their shit together before millions of Americans face poverty and possibly eviction over the next several days.

The “Grim Reaper” of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, was unmoved. “Meh, we’ll come back on Monday and see if Republicans can come to an agreement amongst themselves” on a bill that has sought no Democratic input, and likely has no Democratic support. Senate GOP punts coronavirus package to next week:

GOP senators had expected to introduce the package of bills on Thursday after days of closed-door haggling among themselves and the White House and publicly struggling to get on the same page.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said key senators will instead unveil it Monday, pointing at the Trump White House as the reason behind the delay.

“The administration has requested additional time to review the fine details, but we will be laying down this proposal early next week. We have an agreement in principle on the shape of this package,” McConnell said from the Senate floor about the decision.

The decision is a shift from just Wednesday, when two members of GOP leadership said they expected the coronavirus package to come up this week.

But Thursday came and went without an update on the timing of the legislation.

Several Republican senators left the Capitol for the week saying they had received no update on the timing of the forthcoming package. Instead, according to Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), they were told by McConnell during a closed-door lunch that it was a “work in progress.”

The discussion, which was dominated with talk about the alligator soup served courtesy of Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), was just hours after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin declared that the administration and the Senate GOP caucus had reached a “fundamental agreement.”

“We talked about Louisiana and alligators. Honestly. We said ‘Mitch what you got?’ and he said, ‘We’re working on it. Not much to report yet, but we’re working on it,'” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “So that’s where it’s at. So, I think it’s being fleshed out.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) added that “he expected it to be out today. I haven’t seen it yet. But that’s when I was expecting it to be able to come out.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who was been working on the liability protection portion, added that he was “expecting it this morning.”

Other Republicans senators, on the way out of Washington until Monday, indicated that there were still behind-the-scenes talks taking place.

We’re still developing the bill. It’s not going to come out till Monday,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters.

For those Americans whose landlord will evict them in the coming days, remember that Republican Senators were more interested in talking about Sen. Kennedy’s alligator soup than actually doing anything to help you.

Whatever these fools come up with will only be their opening offer in negotiations with Democrats on a fifth coronavirus bill. It will not be the bill which eventually gets approved, maybe weeks from now.  Remember that Senate Republicans pissed away ten weeks that they could have been negotiating a bipartisan bill when you are seeking assistance from the homeless shelter and soup kitchen.

The days of hold up have opened Republicans up to criticism from Democrats, who characterized them as “disorganized” and in “disarray” for returning to Washington knowing there was a tight timeline without a negotiating offer ready to go.

“Our Republican colleagues have been so divided, so disorganized, and so unprepared that they have struggled to draft a partisan proposal within their own conference. This is before they talk to a single Democrat. This is before they even consider what the House has done,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.

Republicans say they still believe Congress will ultimately get an agreement on the next coronavirus package, even if the talks go down to the deadline of the Senate’s expected Aug. 7 departure date.

That’s right, Senators still plan to take an August recess when the nation is mired in an out-of-control coronavirus pandemic, an economy with depression level unemployment and businesses and the jobs they provide being wiped out, and an autocratic white nationalist president sending his “private militia” and GOPstapo agents into the streets of America to wage a war against American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights as a twisted campaign strategy to divide the nation with racial conflict.

Here’s an idea, the Senate should cancel its August recess and use it to rescue the nation by impeaching this dangerous, corrupt, incompetent racist. This is how the Republican Party should select its nominee for November. Reject Donald Trump now, or every last Republican in office should be rejected by voters this November.

The Washington Post adds a critical point, Senate GOP struggles to finalize $1 trillion coronavirus bill:

[T]the internal divisions over multiple other issues, from the payroll tax cut to whether a new bill is even necessary, led to pessimistic forecasts from some.

“I’d say it’s gonna be tough,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “There are some over here that think we benefit from doing nothing because people don’t want to spend any more money.”

Cramer said he thought it was possible that even if they succeed in overcoming their internal differences, Republicans would be unable to bridge the “pretty big gap” with Democrats, who have embraced a $3 trillion bill containing multiple priorities Republicans oppose, such as a large package of aid for cities and states, among other things.

Translation: The Republican “Plan B” is to do nothing. Let the country burn and leave the ashes to Joe Biden and the Democrats. This is economic sabotage, and it’s not the first time that the GOP has done this. When will Americans ever learn?

Business columnist Michael Hiltzik writes at the LA Times, The GOP war on unemployment aid is bad for workers and disastrous for the economy (excerpts):

As we write, Senate Republicans have been unable to reach an internal accord — let alone an agreement with Democrats controlling the House — on extending and expanding coronavirus relief programs last enacted as the CARES Act at the end of March.

Plans to introduce a sample bill as an initial negotiating strategy Thursday fell apart. The current goal is Monday.

Of course, there’s no urgency.

Oh, wait — by Monday, emergency unemployment benefits will have expired for millions of American households. The nascent economic recovery seen in April and May appears to be evaporating.

New weekly unemployment claims reported Thursday rose to 1.4 million, the first uptick in four months. About 30 million Americans are unemployed.

Airlines say a recovery in summertime bookings has all but disappeared. The Census Bureau’s weekly Household Pulse Report, an experimental survey that has been remarkably accurate in past months, registered a decline of 6.7 million jobs in the U.S. from mid-June to mid-July.

Every day of delay in negotiating and enacting a relief bill piles more pain on American families who are staring over the brim of a fiscal cliff not of their own making. States and cities need more money to keep public employees on their payrolls. Schools need money to manage the start of the academic year, whether they open for face-to-face instruction or not.

Update: A summary (pdf) of the Republican plan obtained by the New York Times Thursday doesn’t mention election security funding, but it does note that the GOP relief package will propose “no additional money for state/local governments.” Remember that McConnell said “I would certainly be in favor of allowing states to use the bankruptcy route.”  The bankruptcy code does not permit states to file for bankruptcy.

What’s known about the GOP outline includes a cut in the CARES Act’s emergency unemployment benefit from $600 a week to as little as $100.

Showing ‘contempt for the American people,’ GOP floats slashing boosted unemployment payments to $100 per week:

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said the $100-per-week proposal shows “Senate Republicans are wildly out of touch with reality.” If adopted, the GOP proposal would reduce the monthly payments to millions of out-of-work Americans from $2,400 to $400.

“Seriously, just $400 a month?” Beyer tweeted late Wednesday. “Cutting monthly income for 30 million families by $2,000 would cost the country millions of jobs. This wouldn’t just be horrible governance, it would show contempt for the American people.”

Economic Policy Institute research director Josh Bivens estimated that reducing the weekly unemployment insurance (UI) boost from $600 to $100 would cost the U.S. more than four million jobs over the next year.

“Both cruel and stupid,” Bivens said.

Although Republicans have rejected President Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut, they have reportedly included the TRUST Act, a back-door device to cut Social Security benefits behind closed doors, in the proposed measure.

They have insisted on granting legal liability protection to businesses whose employees contract the virus — a step that burdens employees with greater potential health risks while removing an incentive for businesses to ensure clean and safe workplaces.

Always evil GOP bastards. Always.

It’s proper, even imperative, to ask what Republicans are thinking when they advocate slashing unemployment benefits in the teeth of a pandemic and amid a persistent, even intensifying, unemployment crisis.

To be fair, congressional Republicans haven’t been shy about revealing their thoughts. They maintain that the benefits are discouraging American workers from going back to their jobs.

With some during this period collecting more from unemployment than they did on the job, there’s a subtext that unemployed workers are layabouts nestled on their couches in front of the TV, scarfing down bonbons purchased with their $600 weekly handouts.

Here’s Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) speaking Thursday on Yahoo Finance:

“We can’t continue to have $600 [a week] for a few more months because it is just making it practically impossible for businesses to get people back to work…. Common sense tells you that if you want people to go back to work then government can’t be an unfair competitor by paying people not to work.”

In this case, to paraphrase Dickens’ Mr. Bumble, common sense is an ass.

There is no evidence that the emergency unemployment benefit has constrained hiring across the economy. Indeed, even the sources commonly quoted by adherents to this view don’t say what they claim.

Before we get into what the evidence actually does show, let’s examine the economic impact of the $600 weekly emergency unemployment stipend, which started on March 29 and was scheduled to continue through this month.

* * *

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that disposable personal income rose in April by a record 13%. That produced a rebound in retail sales of 18% from the previous month.

Although retail sales were down in May by 6% from a year earlier, this was “a surprisingly small reduction given how many stores were still closed,” former Obama administration economic advisor Jason Furman told a House committee on June 18.

Among the ramifications was a similarly surprising gain of 2.5 million jobs in May, although more than 14 million Americans are still estimated to have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

Republicans like Grassley talk as though the emergency unemployment aid is a pure cost to the American economy. It’s unclear what they think happens to this money once it reaches households. Perhaps they think it’s used as padding for mattresses.

The truth is that it’s spent — on rent, food, gas and other household necessities. As my colleague Don Lee observes, the emergency unemployment benefits “help millions of workers keep paying their rent, writing mortgage checks, making car payments and caring for families.”

The money supports landlords, grocery stores, gas stations, anyone else providing purchased goods and their employees. Eliminating the emergency benefit entirely would take as much as $18 billion a week out of the consumer economy, or more than $930 billion on an annualized basis, at a moment when the U.S. economy has been rocked back on its heels.

The consequences would be dire. Economist Ernie Tedeschi, the macro research director at Evercore ISI, estimates that full expiration would trim 2% from gross domestic product by the end of this year. That’s almost as much as the average GDP growth per year since 2016.

The U.S. would have 1.7 million fewer jobs by the end of the year than if it kept the stipend in place, he calculates. Smaller reductions would have commensurately smaller effects, but in no event would they be positive.

That brings us to the received GOP trope that unemployment benefits discourage work. This notion in general has a long history, but has never had much in the way of a factual foundation.

A study published this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found, to the contrary, that unemployed workers receiving benefits searched for work more intensely than those whose benefits had expired or who had not received them at all.

The authors also found that “once individuals exhaust their benefits, their search effort drops precipitously.” That suggests that unemployment benefits enhance the desire to return to work, rather than the other way around. [Because states require you to show that you have sought work in the past week to continue collecting benefits.]

The idea that unemployment benefits discourage work has a sort of brute logic — more so given that the emergency pandemic assistance is generous enough to pay some recipients more than they were earning in their pre-pandemic jobs.

That’s certainly true — the average replacement rate of traditional unemployment benefits has been around 30% to 50% of a worker’s wages. Because the $600 weekly federal boost on top of traditional benefits set by individual states is a lump sum not tied to workers’ pre-pandemic wages, some workers receive more than 100% of what they were paid in the past. But does that make a difference?

“The objection to emergency unemployment insurance is based on a very simple story,” Tedeschi told me. “It’s that unemployment benefits pay more than work now, so why would you go back to work?”

That notion, however, “assumes that workers are extremely shortsighted,” Tedeschi says. Almost everyone understands that the $600 bump-up is temporary, even if it were to be extended into 2021 as Democrats advocate.

“Why would you, as a worker, pass over a job that is likely to be a more stable arrangement in favor of what could just be another couple of weeks of emergency benefits?” Tedeschi asks. “That’s a really big risk for workers to take.”

It’s not as though America is anywhere near full employment today. Even after improvements in job creation in May and June, the unemployment rate is still higher than it was at the peak of the Great Recession, Tedeschi observes.

* * *

Cutting unemployment benefits now would be a massive economic self-inflicted wound for the United States. Increases in unemployment benefits during economic crises — such as this one — always have had among the biggest bangs for the buck of any recovery programs, largely because they deliver the most help to low-income families, which spend the money as they receive it.

Republicans showed no shame in delivering a massive handout to the rich in 2017 via a huge and unnecessary tax cut. Now that the imperative is upon them to bail out American families at a time when it is necessary to preserve the entire economy, they’re falling all over themselves to avoid it.

In the past we’ve found reason to ask, “Who are these people working for?” The current spectacle prompts us to ask: “Are they working for anybody?”

Republicans work for the millionaire and billionaire Plutocrats who have enriched themselves even in the current economic crisis at the expense of working class Americans. Income inequality and wealth inequality have only grown worse. And now we are staring into the face of an economic depression.

Just what is it going to take for Americans to throw these Republicans out of office?




3 COMMENTS

  1. “Republicans Aren’t Sure Saving Trump With a Stimulus Package Is Worth It”, https://www.thedailybeast.com/republicans-arent-sure-saving-trump-with-a-stimulus-package-is-worth-it?ref=home

    Senate Republicans aren’t sure how lengthy a legislative lifeline to toss to the president—or even if they should hand one at all. Some lawmakers have a narrow, targeted extension of benefits in mind, while self-described fiscal hawks who are close Trump allies have started to loudly skewer the idea of another trillion-dollar bill, arguing that Trump would be damaged more if he approved such a bill than if he did not.

    “I think that the conservative base is tired of spending money we don’t have,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), “and actually exploding the debt by $5 trillion in six months offends a lot of conservatives in the party.”

    Another staunch Trump ally in the Senate, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), said it “boggles my mind” that the GOP conference isn’t more united in questioning the need for more spending … “I don’t think it’d be a problem not passing this trillion dollars. Not at all,” said Johnson, when asked if the lack of another coronavirus bill would be a political problem for Trump. “You take a look at what we haven’t spent of the $2.9 trillion [already appropriated] and spend it better.”

    [T]here seemed to be little alarm that falling short in countering the crisis gripping the country would have any kind of negative impact on Trump’s quest for another four years.

    “We think the election’s going to be about, you know, public safety, about China, and about who they think is going to help build the economy,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

    “It’s probably better not to get anything at all than to get something bad,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). “What’s the public going to do? They’re gonna look at this like, no, wait a minute—does this help me get back to work? Does this help my kids get back to school? Does this give me some security, or is this just like more funding for this, that, and the other special interest?”

    The feeling among Republicans that too much has already been spent, or misspent, on COVID-19 relief is coloring how they approach a package that comes in a pivotal moment of Trump’s term and his effort to secure another one. It’s enough to give even optimistic Trump allies some pause about what comes next.

    “The President has always said that the cure can’t be worse than the disease. I think there’s some that could argue we’ve created a cure that’s worse than the disease,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).

    • Bastards. They would not think twice if it was tax cuts for their rich friends. The only good side to them not taking the needs of the people seriously is it exposes more vulnerable Republican Senate incumbents to hopeful losses in November. Of course, it could be Republicans prefer being the whining obstructionist minority with no governing responsibility. Democrats, if they retain the House and take over the Senate will have to reform the filibuster rules. They should keep McConnell’s rules on judges so they can correct the Enemy of the People’s excesses there.

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