March 27, 2020

Coronavirus Relief Bill

“With rare bipartisanship and speed, Washington is about to deliver massive, unprecedented legislation to speed help to individuals and businesses as the coronavirus pandemic takes a devastating toll on the U.S. economy and health care system. The House is set to pass the sprawling, $2.2 trillion measure Friday morning after an extraordinary 96-0 Senate vote late Wednesday.” AP News

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From the Left

The left generally supports the bill, but takes issue with some elements.

“The new stimulus bill gives unemployed workers an extra $600 per week. That’s huge… Democrats said that increasing unemployment benefits was their top priority going into negotiations over this bill, which originally did not include any significant expansion. I think it’s fair to say they’ve succeeded. As a result of their efforts, a lot of lower- and middle-income Americans are about to receive a life vest made of cash to help them survive this crisis.”
Jordan Weissmann, Slate

It looks like Democrats managed to get some strings attached [to the $500 billion for big businesses]… There will be an inspector general and a five-member panel assigned to do oversight of the program. Any company that receives a loan can't do stock buybacks or pay out dividends as long as they're getting help, plus an extra year. Nor are they allowed to lay off more than 10 percent of their employees. There are also restrictions on executive compensation… Unfortunately, it appears Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will have extremely broad powers to waive those restrictions as he sees fit. And did I mention the Fed has already hired the Wall Street behemoth BlackRock to help it administer this program?”
Jeff Spross, The Week

Yet “The biggest problem is that the package is too short-term. The UI provisions expire in four months. The loans are a one-off package. The state and local aid doesn’t re-up despite states like Ohio saying they’re facing budget cuts of 20 percent. The cash checks only go out once, and not as quickly as they could…

“[One option would be to] keep sending out $2,000 checks, financed by the Federal Reserve, for each adult and child… every month until the employment to population ratio for working-age people reaches 80.5 percent again, its level when this crisis started… You could do the same with aid to state and local governments. Start by offering 50 percent of their 2019 state revenue as a federal grant, taking advantage of the ultra-low interest rates the federal government currently enjoys. Phase down the grant amounts as we approach full employment again. Make the process automatic, reflecting actual economic data, not Congress’s whims.”
Dylan Matthews, Vox

“The Senate bill will reportedly provide states with $150 billion in funding for defraying the cost of Covid-related expenses. Which is better than nothing. But the sum total is too low, and the restriction on the use of the funds is small-minded. The true cost of fighting Covid-19 can’t be measured exclusively in state spending on health care and public health. Enforcing lockdowns and social distancing requires states to forfeit massive amounts of expected revenue…

“Ohio Governor Mike DeWine earned accolades for taking early, proactive measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus in his state. But one consequence of those acts of responsible governance is that the Buckeye State’s Treasury is getting depleted fast. As a result, DeWine is now calling for 20 percent across-the-board cuts to Ohio’s budget. Unless Congress sends more relief to the states, federal stimulus will be undermined by state-level austerity as teachers and other public workers lose their jobs or suffer steep pay cuts that depress consumer demand in local economies, undermining basic government services.”
Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

“Denmark has agreed to compensate Danish employers for up to 90 percent of their workers’ salaries. In the Netherlands, companies facing a loss of at least 20 percent of their revenue can similarly apply for the government to cover 90 percent of payroll… Under Germany’s Kurzarbeit scheme, the government chips in even for workers kept on part time…

“Preserving jobs is important because a job isn’t merely about the money. Compensated labor provides a sense of independence, identity and purpose; an unemployment check does not replace any of those things. People who lose jobs also lose their benefits — and in the United States, that includes their health insurance… [Moreover] preserving ties between companies and workers could help to accelerate the eventual economic recovery once the pandemic passes… the [US] government agreed to give workers who lose their jobs an extra $600 a week. We’d all be better off if the government had helped those workers keep their jobs instead.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right generally supports the bill, but takes issue with some elements.

The right generally supports the bill, but takes issue with some elements.

“Speed matters a lot more than getting the bill perfectly right in this circumstance. If taxpayer money ends up in the hands of those who don’t need it, some of those people will donate it to causes that do need the money; and if they don’t, there are ways to claw back the money later. Heck, raise taxes on the highest incomes if you have to in a year or two if you have to, but don’t let the current crisis get worse over the fear that somebody somewhere might get a check they don’t need

“The important thing was to get the money out the door as quickly as possible. For many people, rent or the mortgage is due on the first day of the month… Each day that the money doesn’t arrive, more businesses are forced by the lack of business to lay off their workers. More are forced to close their doors. Restaurants realize they can’t get by on the much more limited income from take-out and delivery. Bars can’t survive on take-out drink orders… All of the usual policy priorities needed to take a raincheck at least for now, if not for the duration of the crisis.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“We have often opposed stimulus bills in the past, considering it a mistake for the federal government to borrow money to expand a depressed economy. At the moment, though, the government is not trying to expand the economy or even arrest its contraction. It is principally trying to enable the temporary shutdown of much of the economy with the least humanitarian damage. The legislation should be judged on whether it aids efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus, aids the treatment of the infected, relieves the plight of those adversely affected by it and the fight against it, and supports the overall economy. These purposes, as we noted at the outset of this debate, sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict. They also call for placing speed ahead of efficiency, and both ahead of mere partisan objectives.”
The Editors, National Review

Critics note that “The legislation expands, extends, and increases unemployment benefit payments in numerous ways, including by adding $600 to weekly unemployment insurance (UI) checks over the next four months… In effect, the flat $600 add-on means many unemployed Americans will receive bigger unemployment checks than their prior paychecks, as well as their likely future paychecks when they return to work. That creates a financial incentive to delay returns to work, which will also delay the recovery.”
Matt Weidinger, American Enterprise Institute

“The relief measures in this bill are very complex. Congress has put in mountains of specific requirements that must be satisfied by those seeking help. If past experience is prologue, it will take months to write the rules and guidance necessary to put these emergency relief programs in place and disburse payments… The biggest winner of all looks to be the legions of lawyers, accountants, and consultants who will earn substantial sums trying to help businesses tap into these new rescue lines. Consider that I do not even have enough paper or ink supply to print out this massive bill while working from home. I cannot imagine anyone has read the entire bill — it will take me days if not longer.”
Paul H. Kupiec, American Enterprise Institute

Some ask, “Did you take a flight on United Airlines between December 2002 and February 2006? How about on Delta between September 2005 and April 2007? Or on American Airlines between November 2011 and December 2013? If so, you traveled on a bankrupt airline. These firms had all invoked Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code and were in the process of restructuring their finances in court. Yet they continued to operate and still exist today… there is no reason that the federal government should spend upward of $50 billion to bail out airlines when these companies continue to have access to the same financial restructuring procedures that they have used time and time again…

“When Congress speaks of helping airlines, it is really talking about helping investors in these airlines: creditors and shareholders. Perhaps also frequent flyers who might see the value of their air miles diluted, but that is certainly a cost society can bear… This general line of reasoning applies not only to airlines but to all other industries dominated by large corporations. Investors should bear the losses they signed up to take when they invested. Taxpayers should be protected from restoring those losses under the false pretense of saving the business.”
Joshua D. Rauh, Chicago Tribune

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