$1 Trillion In Your Pocket

$1 Trillion In Your Pocket

“Tomorrow will make one year since the coronavirus was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization,” Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday, as the House passed Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus relief bill.

Then, she ran through the numbers. “Since that day, nearly 30 million Americans have become infected [and] over half a million Americans have died,” she lamented, before reminding lawmakers in the House that the death toll sums to “more lives than were lost in combat in all of America’s wars against foreign enemies combined.”

It now seems inevitable that more Americans will die from COVID-19 than the Spanish Flu. Simply put, the coronavirus is one of the worst tragedies to befall the US in the country’s (very) short history.

All “apples to oranges” complaints and exhortations for the chart (below) to be population-adjusted notwithstanding, it always feels like this is one case when pretensions to statistical veracity should be subjugated to the simple reality that is 528,000+ dead and how that compares to episodes Americans normally associate with national tragedy.

Of course, the red bar only depicts those who lost their lives. The number who lost their livelihoods, along with those whose livelihoods were already lost, but who became totally destitute as a result of the pandemic, is far higher. Indeed, that figure is all but incalculable.

Given this most stark of realities, it’s exceedingly difficult to adopt anything that approximates a genial cadence when it comes to the GOP and the Biden relief plan. Not a single Republican in either chamber voted for the bill. That’s pretty hard to stomach. It speaks to what I’d describe as pathological partisanship.

I’ve mentioned previously that post-Trump, it’s hard to know what the archetypal “Republican” voter believes in or stands for. The GOP long ago managed to establish a tenuous bond between the wealthy and some members of the country’s lower-middle class by appealing to “American values.” That cynical gambit succeeded in forging a coalition comprised in part of citizens willing to vote against their own economic interests in order to advance conservatism.

Now, though, a sizable contingent of GOP voters are loyal not to the party or any traditional Republican orthodoxy, but rather to Trump and Trumpism. It’s not clear (at all) that a majority of Trump’s acolytes are on board with the notion that the government shouldn’t hand out lots of “goodies.”

Consider what’s in the bill (and most readers can recite this, but it’s worth recapping the highlights):

  • $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments
  • $10 billion for state infrastructure projects
  • $14 billion for vaccine distribution
  • $49 billion for testing, tracing and personal protective equipment
  • $130 billion for primary and secondary schools
  • $30 billion for transit agencies
  • $45 billion in rental, utility, and mortgage assistance
  • $1,400 stimulus checks
  • $25 billion for restaurants
  • Billions for small businesses
  • An extension of the $300 weekly federal unemployment supplement through September
  • As much as $10,200 of tax relief tied to jobless aid from last year
  • An expansion of the child tax credit

The problem for the GOP is that none of that sounds “bad” to regular people. And without Trump to “explain” to an undereducated base why some spending is “wasteful” or otherwise risks turning the country into a “socialist” nightmare, the job of maligning the legislation goes to people like Kevin McCarthy, a decidedly poor stand-in for the former president when it comes to rhetorical bombast.

“This isn’t a relief bill. It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic,” McCarthy ventured on Wednesday.

Contrast that with Pelosi’s characterization: “This legislation puts nearly $1 trillion in the pockets of the American people.”

McCarthy’s messaging may resonate with old guard Republicans, but let’s face it, most of Trump’s most ardent supporters probably don’t even know who McCarthy is. And even if they’ve heard his name, most Trump voters likely couldn’t pick Kevin out of a line-up comprised of a half-dozen men in business suits.

You laugh, but that’s a real problem for the GOP. Post-2016, the party is a personality cult. But the leader is currently living in exile at a resort. The rest of the GOP has about as much “personality” as a sack full of rocks, and the few members who don’t come across as automatons can’t get out of their own way (e.g., Ted Cruz going to Cancún during the Texas deep-freeze).

On Tuesday, Pew released a survey which showed 70% of US adults favor the legislation. Just 28% oppose it.

“While congressional votes on the legislation have been deeply divided along partisan lines, 41% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support the measure,” Pew found.

Steve Scalise rolled out the deficit ghost story. “You can’t just keep adding mountains of debt at hundreds of billions at a time,” he chided.

On the off chance anybody who’s poised to see $1,400 (or more, for couples) magically materialize in their checking account over the next 14 days cares what Scalise has to say, they might fairly point to the figure (below) which shows that prior to the pandemic, the US was likewise “adding mountains of debt” and ballooning the deficit.

To reiterate: That chart doesn’t include anything related to the pandemic. It stops at 2020. The chart header and subhead speak for themselves.

An analysis released by the Tax Policy Center this week appeared to show a dramatic difference in the distribution of benefits (across cash income percentiles) under the Biden relief bill versus how the windfall from the Trump tax cuts was distributed. Consider, for example, that average after-tax income for households in the top 0.1% won’t rise under the Biden plan. Under the Trump tax cuts, that cohort was set to enjoy a 2.7% increase.

If you’re wondering what would have counted as a “compromise” for nearly a dozen GOP senators who met with Biden recently to discuss a prospective bipartisan bill, the price tag was $650 billion. So, when the GOP suggests, as McCarthy did Wednesday, that “House Democrats have abandoned any pretense of unity,” it’s at least worth noting that Senate GOPers were effectively asking Biden to square a circle.

“About one-third of Americans plan to save their check,” Bloomberg said, citing a Morning Consult survey they commissioned. That’s “much higher than the prior stimulus money,” the same linked article reads. It also notes that “around the same share said they’d purchase food, and one-quarter cited housing payments.”

With apologies to anyone who doesn’t support this legislation, I’m not sure I’d characterize those statistics as bad outcomes.

According to one Republican (Tom Cole), the GOP would have supported as much as $900 billion in relief. Tom’s a smart guy, I’m sure. So, he doubtlessly knows that $900 billion is not halfway between $650 billion and $1.9 trillion.

Cole called the relief bill “a bad start” to the Biden administration.

Pelosi said this: “Help is on the way.”


3 thoughts on “$1 Trillion In Your Pocket

  1. H, you omitted the last part where McCarthy implied the relief package is inadequate, as if his party would have done more: “…this isn’t a relief bill, it’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that pre-date the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families.”

    GOP is free to propose a second relief package that does meet these needs. Let’s add a job guarantee while we’re at it.

  2. I’ve seen headlines to the effect of “Democrats face risk of partisan passage of relief bill.” But really–which party is clearly behaving in a partisan manner in spite of public opinion? Which party is taking on risk? I think the McConnell 2010 playbook of opposing every single action of the administration will not work out so well this time for Republicans. They will have to hope that their voter suppression efforts are completely water-tight.

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