Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Reuters / Aaron P. Bernstein
US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo: Reuters / Aaron P Bernstein

On Tuesday, Democrats who control the US House of Representatives unveiled another massive coronavirus relief bill, the fifth proposed piece of legislation related to the pandemic. 

The bill follows the Interim Coronavirus Bill, signed into law on April 24; the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27; the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 18; and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, signed into law on March 6. 

The newest piece of legislation, dubbed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, represents the latest efforts of lawmakers to stymie the economic and health-related fallout from the pandemic.   

The US$3 trillion, 1,800-page proposal provides funds to state governments, businesses and individuals in what represents by far the most extensive and ambitious piece of pandemic-related legislation to date.  

This funding includes: $500 billion in assistance to state governments for fiscal administration, a $200 billion “Heroes Fund” that would give companies grants conditioned on providing $13 per hour in hazard pay to essential workers on top of their regular wages, a $600-per-week increase in unemployment insurance, and a second round of $1,200 payments to Americans. 

The bill also establishes a student-loan debt-forgiveness program, calls for an additional $75 billion for testing, contact tracing and isolation measures to ensure that Americans could receive free Covid-19 treatment, and provides $50 million in assistance to farmers, another $100 billion to low-income renters to help prevent mass evictions, and $25 billion to the US Postal Service. 

The House was to vote on the bill on Friday. But as expected, under the politicized nature of practically everything in the United States, the relief package has garnished much criticism from the Republican-led Senate, which plans to kill the bill in its infancy.  

The little institution that couldn’t

America’s scorecard in the Covid-19 test is frankly abysmal. As the death toll from the virus passes 84,000 and jobless claims reach more than 36 million, American leadership must face the reality that their efforts to combat the crisis are simply not good enough. 

Equally abysmal has been the reaction of President Donald Trump’s administration and the never-ending partisan game that has prevented an effective and coordinated response to a pandemic that is now revealing the worst aspects of American society.  

Any observer of the situation will be quick to realize that not even those in power know what’s going on or have any plan beyond worrying about their own constituencies and interests. 

And given that all things are partisan in America, this has been a recipe for disaster.  The initial concentration of the outbreak has primarily been focused in Democratic states – a fact that has led to an obvious choice for Republican governors considering what they should do in response to the pandemic. In effect, these governors can tell their constituencies, many of them rural, that their taxpayer money is largely helping Democratic states.  

Reopening the economy then becomes the easy answer: Why shut down your economy when your constituency simply doesn’t care about national unity or taking medical advice seriously? 

This partially underscores why Covid-19 has become such a politicized issue in the United States. Yet one wonders how this might play out when the virus starts to shift to Republican states, a trend already well under way. Reopening then may become political suicide, especially as the virus affects senior citizens more than younger voters who participate less than their elderly counterparts in elections. 

Yet as time goes on and the blame game goes around and around, Americans will be left with the same old message of a highly individualistic society: You’re on your own, pal, time to pull up your bootstraps. Politicians will continue to capitalize on the pandemic (go democracy?) and continue to instigate events like those in Florida, Wisconsin, and Michigan. 

A silver lining

While the Trump administration continues to give vacuous guidance and fails to ensure basic testing and other health-related necessities, House Democrats can at least be applauded (surprisingly) for proposing a somewhat bold program that actually targets America’s most vulnerable – workers who either were laid off or, if lucky, must risk their health every day to keep life sustainable.  

But Republicans, including President Trump, have already opposed the bill to the point of extinction.  

To be sure, Republican leadership is not opposed to any new relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly expressed an interest in passing further legislation that prioritizes increased testing capacity and liability protections for doctors and businesses.  

Policymakers are currently working out many details of the HEROES Act, including adding new conditions for additional funding under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to ensure that large businesses cannot take advantage of funds meant for smaller ones, changes to the loan-forgiveness structure, and more strict showing requirements for businesses that claim to be suffering from financial hardship. 

Yet the partisan system that many people praise as the cornerstone of democracy has again gotten in the way of prioritizing the most poor and vulnerable in society. Republican lawmakers simply must express disagreement with the Democrats or else they look weak to their constituencies and, most important, their Overlord in the Oval Office who demands unwavering commitment from his subjects.  

And letting Democrats secure a tiny win, even if it comes from helping all Americans overcome a global pandemic, is a non-starter. 

Republican leadership laments that the bill commits too much money and that the taxpayer will suffer as a result of the Democrats’ unruly fiscal stimulus by adding trillions to the national debt without guaranteeing any way of paying for it.  

Yet the ultimate irony is that when the stimulus is going to wealthy corporations via unconditional tax cuts, Republicans look the other way. But when money is going to workers, the poor, and states in desperate need of funding (for example, New York), the national debt suddenly becomes the ultimate bogeyman. 

Such is the state of American politics today and partially why America has again revealed that it promises a beautiful lie. 

Hunter Dorwart

Hunter Dorwart is an independent researcher living in Washington, DC. He explores issues on a range of topics including startup financing, international trade policy, artificial intelligence, and geopolitics. He is currently researching changes to international data privacy with the International Bar Association.