The $2 trillion bipartisan rescue deal worked out by Senate leaders and the Trump administration early Wednesday could mark a major turning point in the nation's ability to weather the coronavirus crisis. The key in this fight is to take Americans out of circulation as much as possible, which entails shutting down businesses and keeping workers at home indefinitely. This package contains essential compensation for the sacrifices required to stop the virus from spreading.
Skeptics on the far right and left might still try to obstruct the package's quick passage in Congress — testament to skewed priorities that put selfish political interests in front of the nation's economic survival. One benefit of this crisis is that it has allowed political centrists, finally, to dominate the national conversation while helping expose the fallacies behind the extremists' agendas.
The rescue bill contains $500 billion in financial aid for businesses and state and local governments, along with huge provisions for American workers facing layoffs or furloughs. Individuals who made less than $75,000 a year would qualify for a $1,200 payment, along with $500 for each child. A key improvement adds $600 monthly in federal unemployment compensation on top of what states pay. Democrats won a provision extending those payments for four months.
The nation's beleaguered education system would receive $30 billion in emergency funding. Transit systems would have access to $25 billion. Companies that retain rather than lay off their workers would qualify for a tax credit. Struggling airlines can gain access to $50 billion in loans, along with $8 billion for air cargo carriers.
Much as Democrats tried to use the aid package to force major new emissions and fuel-efficiency standards on airlines, Republicans were correct to insist that the coronavirus emergency response not become a vehicle to advance Green New Deal goals. Likewise, Democrats were correct to hold out for tighter oversight and worker-compensation provisions.
Specific language forbids businesses owned by the president, his family, or members of Congress from benefiting. A new inspector general's office would be created to audit all expenditures. Strict oversight is essential, given the high potential for big chunks of the $2 trillion package to be siphoned for personal gain. Just look at the billions wasted or diverted in Iraq and Afghanistan to understand the ability of greed to undermine even the most valiant of efforts.
As enormous and historic as this stimulus package is, it almost certainly won't be enough. State and local governments will see their tax revenues plummet, and the amount earmarked to help them likely will only provide a fraction of what they'll need.
But at least the bipartisan sniping has ended and, for once, Senate leaders appear to be fighting together to defeat a common enemy that recognizes no political boundaries.
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