Washington and the Coronavirus: A Quick Update

I’m writing this on Monday, March 23, in early afternoon.  As of now, there are two key things to be aware of, with regard to what the federal government is doing–or, at the moment, what it isn’t.

First, Congress has yet to pass the emergency stimulus bill that would infuse up to three trillion dollars into the collapsing economy.  Democrats and Republicans both agree that federal money needs to be sent rapidly to individuals, small businesses, and some big corporations to rescue the nation’s economy.  However, the Democrats want more money than the Republicans do, and the Democrats want there to be more safeguards to make sure that the money dispensed to corporations doesn’t go into the pockets of their shareholders and their already-rich executives.  They want more guarantees that it will benefit the workers.

The negotiations aren’t happening the usual way, where bills in Congress are concerned.  The Senate is trying to reach bipartisan agreement on a bill that can then be sent to the House.  Two of the key negotiators are Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.  (Trump himself still isn’t on speaking terms with the Democrats on Capitol Hill, so he’s leaving that to Mnuchin, probably a smart move.)  They hope to have something by tonight; things fell apart last night (Sunday).

By the way, there’s another complication:  members of Congress have to be present in the physical chamber on Capitol Hill to vote.  It would take a rules change in both the House and the Senate to change that, and the question has been raised as to whether it would be constitutional.  Add to that the fact that three Senators (all Republicans) have tested positive for the Coronavirus and thus can’t vote.  Things are scary, and of course each party blames the other for obstruction, but ideally they’ll come to some agreement by tonight.

Article in Politico, March 23, 2020

Interview on NPR with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, March 23, 2020

Also, several state governors are calling on Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act, passed back in 1950 when the United States was fighting the Korean War, an act authorizing him to give orders to private industry to redirect their production efforts toward the national emergency.  So far he hasn’t, and relations between Trump and a number of governors, including Cuomo, remain tense.



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