A Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Must Work for the American People, not Big Business

Urgent, decisive, and meaningful action is necessary to deal with what may be the largest and deadliest crisis of the 21st century, the COVID-19 outbreak. The trilliondollar stimulus bill that was blocked by Senate Democrats on Sunday evening certainly was urgent and decisive, but unfortunately will not be meaningful—or meaningful enough—for the American people as a whole. In fact, the proposed bill fits squarely into the Republican agenda of upward redistribution of wealth, most lucidly illustrated by the Trump “tax cuts” of November 2017. The coronavirus stimulus bill offers $500 billion for corporations, while not offering protections for working-class Americans such as a debt freeze, unemployment benefits reaching beyond a threemonth period, or a truly universal basic income. The bill proposed $1200 for every adult and $500 for every child, but this is based on an income means test and is far from universal. However, the solutions offered by the Democratic party establishment have not been strong alternatives, and only the progressive wing of the party is offering something that will meaningfully help the people most affected by the virus and its economic fallout.

Progressive members of the Democratic party have offered much more far-reaching proposals than both the Republicans or moderate Democrats during this crisis period. Representative Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) has proposed debit cards of $2,000 for all adults that are replenished by $1,000 every month. Representative Maxine Waters (CA-43) and independent Senator Bernie Sanders (VT) have gone even farther, proposing $2,000 every month. Universal relief programs such as these are what the American people need right now, not income-based means testing that will be inefficient and ineffective. 

Unfortunately, centrist Democrats do not have the same desire for universality [re-word this] as these progressives, with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) stating that “millionaires shouldn’t get” coronavirus relief checks. Millionaires and billionaires do not need a check that amounts to pocket change for them during this time. However, universal programs are incredibly more efficient and obviate the burdensome necessity for paperwork or checking the income level of every American before offering relief. If necessary, we can take these checks back from the wealthy via taxes at a later date, but right now urgency is required and urgency is best accomplished with universality. This ploy from Pelosi and the Democratic Party establishment reeks of the way centrist presidential candidates turned Medicare for All, the revolutionary proposal to create a single-payer healthcare system in America, into “Medicare for All Who Want It,” essentially an expansion of the flawed Obamacare which would keep the parasitic private health insurance industry in place. This compulsive instinct of the Democratic Party to “means test” programs will not help endear themselves to the American people in a time of crisis. They have blocked this stimulus bill, but they must come up with a significantly better solution or else they will be seen as obstructors who only care about partisan politics. Unfortunately, meanstesting is a bipartisan consensus among the establishment of both parties, as the Republican plan offers $1,200 to those earning below a certain income, though this is based on reported income in 2018 and many families eligible will not receive the full amount. 2018 income may not be a meaningful reflection of the current economic security of Americans, many of whom are currently being fired after the shocks that this virus has inflicted on the economy. Wealthy folks undeserving of these checks can simply be taxed extra at the end of this year— public school and social security aren’t means tested and most people don’t believe that these programs should not be available to every American.

Rather than worry about who does or doesn’t deserve a relief check, Democrats should focus on programs that will actually protect vulnerable working-class people during this crisis. They should be calling, as some progressives already have done, for a federal freeze on rent obligations, mortgage payment, and student debt repayment. Americans should not be worried about choosing between buying groceries for their quarantine and paying off debts. The Republican plan does not come close to these objectives, one reason why it is not nearly comprehensive enough.

The American people need a stimulus that works for everyone, not only for corporations, as the Republicans’ plan does. At the moment, progressive politicians and activists are the only ones fighting for that.