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Relief Bill Passes the Senate

On Tuesday, several muckety mucks said that the COVID-19 relief bill v3.0 was "on the two-yard line" and its passage was imminent. On Wednesday, for much of the day, it appeared that was a little optimistic, as several Republican senators held up the legislation due to concerns that it incentivized unemployment. In the end, however, none of those folks wanted to be the ones who kept hundreds of millions of Americans from getting much-needed money. In fact, nobody in the entire Senate wanted to be the one guy or gal who voted against the package. And so, late Wednesday, the bill passed unanimously, by a vote of 96 to 0. The only non-votes came from folks who are quarantining, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who is the one person just crazy enough to vote "nay" had he been present.

The measure heads to the House today, and a voice vote is expected. That would spare out-of-town representatives from having to return for the vote, and would also allow folks who prefer not to register a vote (say, tea partiers) to avoid taking a recorded position on the legislation. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) threatened yesterday to demand a recorded vote to slow the process down because she didn't want to vote on an 800-page bill no one in the House has even seen, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will almost certainly try to talk her out of it. As soon as the House approves the measure, assuming they don't try to make any last-minute changes (which would require a House-Senate conference committee to iron out the differences), it will head to the White House, where Donald Trump has already said he'll sign it.

To get an idea of how gigantic this bill is, the Washington Post prepared this chart, which compares the bill's spending to other macroeconomic numbers:

Comparison of corona bill to budget

The article linked to above breaks down the $2.2 trillion into categories. The biggest ones are the slush fund from which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will give out goodies to favored businesses and local governments ($540 billion), small business assistance ($377 billion), one-time checks to people ($290 billion), business tax cuts ($280 billion), expanded unemployment benefits ($260 billion), health spending ($180 billion), and aid to state and local governments ($175 billion). The rest is peanuts (where for purposes of this bill, peanuts is defined as under $100 billion). Democrats don't like the slush fund because it allows Mnuchin to play favorites, but Republicans insisted on it. Imagine that CNN and Fox News both show up at the public trough, hands outstretched. Is there any doubt which one will get lots and lots of public money and which one will get zilch?

While $2.2 trillion is obviously a lot of money, it will keep the country afloat for only a few months. The hope is that the economy will be better by the summer. But there is no guarantee of that, and even more money may be needed. However, what no one is talking about is the long-term effect of spending $6.65 trillion this year against tax revenues of $3.46 (or less due to the business slow down). This, plus the Federal Reserve spending money like a drunken sailor, could rev up inflation to levels we haven't seen in decades. But that problem will be on the next president's plate.

The speed with which the money is disbursed could be critical to how much effect it has and when. A study from the JP Morgan Chase Institute shows that the average small business has only enough reserves to last 12 days. If it takes a month for a business to get money, it may be gone by the time the cash arrives.

Another problem is the "checks" the government will be sending out. The treasury would like to pay people electronically where possible, but not everyone uses direct deposit for their tax refunds, if they even get refunds, so the government will actually have to print and mail millions of actual paper checks. That takes time. The government has issued checks before, but the experience leads people to believe the checks probably won't arrive until late April or May. That won't provide much stimulus in April and once a small business is gone or someone has been evicted for nonpayment of rent, that can't be reversed when the money finally arrives.

And finally, there are many interest groups that are disappointed that they did not get as much money as they wanted, and are making their feelings known. There's plenty of pork in the bill (see below), but some of the nation's largest lobbyists (for example, the AARP) think their concerns were not fully accounted for in the final version.They want another bill.

And so, as a consequence of all these things, congressional leaders are already pivoting toward COVID-19 relief bill v4.0, and establishing what the Overton Window for those discussions will look like. It's hard to believe that Congress will hand out trillions of dollars a second time. On the other hand, two weeks ago, it would have been hard to believe they would do it a first time. The days of arguing over $2 billion vs. $8 billion, all the way back in...March seem almost quaint. So, you never know. (V & Z)

The $2.2 Trillion Relief Bill Is a Christmas Tree--As Usual

Under normal conditions, Congress is completely paralyzed and can't do anything except occasionally come together in a spirit of bipartisanship to name a post office. The $2.2 trillion bill Congress has concocted could be the last piece of serious legislation this year (although, as noted, there might be additional relief bills sooner or later to satisfy the lobbyists who missed the boat this time). Consequently, both parties tried their best to hang all kinds of shiny ornaments their side wants on bill 3.0, like a proverbial Christmas tree. Generally speaking, this kind of behavior makes it harder for the parties to agree on a bill since each one is offended by the others' wishes that are unrelated to the purpose of the bill, namely, protecting companies and workers from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus. But since this is a once-in-a-generation time to get vast amounts of federal money for your donors and base, the temptation is too great for most politicians to resist.

The House version of the bill included funds for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (which is currently closed), and hundreds of other government programs not related to the current emergency. The Senate version included $26 million for overtime pay for TSA workers at airports, even though with virtually no flights, no one is working overtime. It also has $31 million for bio-surveillance of wildlife, and $45 million to help the Agricultural Marketing Service grade beef, eggs, and, naturally, pork. Restaurants, community banks, and for-profit colleges all got special deals. Each item in there was "proposed" by some powerful lobby that will see its efforts multiplied a thousand-fold if they make it into the final bill.

Democrats got a provision in the bill that prevents elected officials from getting money from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's giant slush fund. But it probably won't have their desired effect of preventing Donald Trump from profiting from the bill. For example, one provision allows hotel companies, even very large ones, to get loans as "small businesses, if they have two or more locations." Trump's hotels could take advantage of that, particularly if it is one of the President's business partners who applies for the loan. His company could also benefit from provisions that help restaurants, since most or all of his hotels have restaurants. Many also have stores inside, and they could take advantage of special breaks as well. In other words, there are lots of ways that Trump can get his meathooks into the money without attaching his name to it.

The downside of all this pork is that each party can cherry pick a few items that the other one put in to provide a huge benefit to a very small constituency and try to make this the face of the bill. It has happened before. Last year, Republicans picked on a small number of items in the Green New Deal bill and claimed (falsely) that Democrats wanted to ban cows and airline travel. Some Democrats involved in drafting the relief bill see that happening again. Jared Bernstein, who worked on the 2009 Recovery Act, summed this up by saying: "Have we learned nothing?" (V)

Far Right Is Now Targeting Anthony Fauci

People on the far right cannot brook any criticism of Donald Trump, no matter how mild or how justified. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top government expert on infectious diseases is now under attack from the far right because he has dared to differ from Trump on the handling of COVID-19.

Fundamentally, Fauci's mission is to minimize the number of Americans who die from infectious diseases. His goal is to save lives. Everything else is secondary to him. Trump's goal is to get reelected. Everything else is secondary to him. These goals are not compatible and some of Trump's defenders see Fauci's goals as impediments to Trump's reelection, so he is now the enemy. Here are some of the attacks on Fauci:

  • American Thinker: Anthony Fauci, the NIH's face of the coronavirus, is a Deep-State Hillary Clinton-loving stooge
  • Big League Politics: Dr. Fauci Wants America to Become a Police State Like China in Order to Stop Coronavirus
  • The Gateway Pundit: Dr. Fauci Disrespectful Interview Undermining President Trump Brings Back Memories of When Obama Fired Gen. McChrystal

The bone of contention is Trump's plan to end the social distancing the government is currently advocating and to send everyone back to work right after Easter. Fauci sees this as disastrous, since it will lead to many more infections, illnesses, and deaths. Trump doesn't understand this and thinks everything can be made normal again by executive order. He also thinks that getting everyone back to work will have the economy right itself and the Dow Jones go zooming back to where it was in mid February. Of course, if people go back to work and get sick in large numbers, that won't happen, but if Fox News tells him to do it, he could well do it, with dire consequences.

Fauci's treatment by the right is currently taking place on the fringe, but if Fox News picks it up big time, Trump will see it and could feel justified to fire Fauci or send him to northern Alaska to see if there is any mad whale disease. Fox News has been extremely opportunistic on the whole matter of COVID-19. At first, hosts pooh-poohed the whole idea that there was a problem afoot. Then, after weeks of downplaying it, Fox switched on a dime, declared COVID-19 a national emergency, demanded action, and applauded Trump for his leadership. Now some of the talking heads are backing Texas' Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and saying that having a bunch of old people die is a small price to pay for getting the economy (and the stock market) roaring again. They haven't tried to scapegoat Fauci yet, but come Easter, if Trump and Fauci are on a collision course, they probably will. If Trump fires Fauci, who is 79 and has worked for six presidents, obviously from both parties, he has little to lose by going rogue and holding a press conference saying what he really thinks. The House could also call him to testify in public. It could get rather nasty. (V)

Biden Says That Trump's Timeline Could Be Catastrophic

Yesterday Joe Biden implicitly said that Anthony Fauci is right and Donald Trump is wrong. He warned that going back to normal by Easter could have a devastating impact. He noted that having people go back to work so quickly would just generate another spike in infections.

By saying the same thing as Fauci, Biden has done a couple of things. First, he has made the issue of going back to work after Easter a political issue, rather than a medical issue. The new reality may soon become: Democrats say stay home and Republicans say go to work. Very likely, Democrats will indeed stay home where possible and Republicans will endeavor to go to work where possible. So 45% of the country will try to stay home, 45% will try to work, and 10% won't know what to do. They'll probably wait until they hear what Jill Stein and Gary Johnson think.

Second, Biden's pronouncement will stiffen Trump's resolve to indeed urge everyone to go back to work after Easter. If Biden were to say he prefers milk chocolate Easter eggs, Trump will tell everyone that milk chocolate Easter eggs cause COVID-19 and they should eat only white chocolate Easter eggs. Whatever Biden says, Trump will say that is wrong and push for the opposite. If Biden were to say the sun is bigger than the moon, Trump would say, no, the moon is bigger than the sun. Maybe the former veep should play the reverse psychology game and declare: "Barack Obama was a lousy president" or "A nice combover looks really classy." Trump's head might explode as he tries to figure out how to respond.

Third, if Trump indeed tells everyone to go back to work the day after Easter and the plan goes south, with a huge spike in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, Biden will immediately say this is going to cause more Americans to die and it's Trump's fault. If that indeed comes to pass, "whose fault" the deaths are will become a political issue during the campaign, with Democrats (although not necessarily Biden himself) claiming that Trump is responsible for X number of American deaths. Trump, of course, will blame China, Fauci, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, but if the news is full of obituaries of Americans who have died, the Democrats' narrative might just sway some voters, especially if the post-Easter spike is big and there are a lot of deaths. Of course, if Trump's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tells Trump that sending everyone back to work right after Easter is politically unwise, he might just listen. (V)

Twenty States Have Stay-at-Home Orders

Yesterday, Gov. Brad Little (R-ID) became the 20th governor to issue a stay-at-home order for his state. These states are largely in the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, and on the West Coast. Only six of them (Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, and West Virginia) have Republican governors. Only one (Louisiana) is in the South.

The orders in all the states allow people to leave home for essential purposes like grocery shopping, going to restaurants to pick up food, and visiting doctors and pharmacies. They can also assist others with food shopping or obtaining essential supplies. Dog walking is also allowed, provided that people stay 6 feet apart. The dog can be within 6 feet of the owner, though.

Evidence from multiple states shows that while many people are staying at home, some are ignoring their governor's instructions. Psychology Prof. Gordon Asmundson is studying how people are responding and has come up with five reasons that people are defying the orders to stay at home:

  • They see defiance as a way to get control and make the virus problem seem smaller
  • They don't see it as their problem, but someone else's
  • They are numb to it due to the wall-to-wall coverage on TV and the Internet
  • They prize their individual freedom over what is good for the community
  • They are lonely

Asmundson's hope is that by trying to understand why people are ignoring or actively defying the orders, public health authorities can develop better messages to try to persuade people that they and everyone else will be better off if they stay inside. (V)

California Has Had 1 Million Unemployment Claims in Two Weeks

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) announced yesterday that in the past 2 weeks, 1 million Californians have filed for unemployment. California has 40 milion people, so that is 2.5% of the entire population of the state. When you discount children and retired people, that is roughly 5% of the workforce. If this rate is extrapolated to the country as a whole, with 331 million people, 2.5% of that suggests that 8.2 million people have become unemployed nationally in the past 2 weeks.

That number is probably an overestimate since urban states like California have suffered more than rural states like Wyoming. Still, even 4 million newly unemployed would be a huge jump. In February 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 3.5% and 5.8 million people unemployed. If an additional 8.2 million unemployed were added in the March report, the number of unemployed people would jump to 14.0 million and the rate would climb to 8.4%. If only 4 million people were newly unemployed in March, the ranks of the unemployed would jump to 9.8 million and the rate would hit 5.9%. Having the unemployment rate go from 3.5% to somewhere between 5.9% and 8.4% will shoot a couple of holes in Trump's plan to campaign on how great the economy is.

Of course, the relief bill will kick in by May. Companies will get federal funds on the condition they keep their employees on the payroll, even if they have nothing to do. People will get their $1,200 checks and start buying things, which will hopefully cause businesses to start rehiring people who have been laid off. So the April and especially May numbers could well be much lower than the March numbers, but certainly not as good as the February numbers. By June we should have a better idea of where the unemployment numbers are and thus how potent a campaign issue this will be. In the end, it is the September numbers that matter though (because the October numbers won't be available before Nov. 3). (V)

COVID-19 Could Devolve into Class Warfare

Different people are affected very differently by the government's pleas for social distancing. Lawyers can talk to their clients from home using FaceTime or Skype. Accountants who spend all day on their computers looking at the digital files of companies they are auditing can continue to do that just fine from home. Professors can give lectures to empty classrooms and have their students see and hear them via Zoom or Webex. Managers in many companies can use a variety of videoconferencing systems to hold meetings with employees, all of whom are at home. In short, for some people, working from home is a minor inconvenience at worst, and a plus at best if it eliminates a long and unpleasant commute.

On the other hand, for bus drivers, factory workers, waiters and waitresses, supermarket cashiers, and Uber drivers, working from home isn't an option at all, and not working means not being paid. For many of them, not being paid means choosing between eating and paying the rent.

It's not hard to see where this is going. For the professional class (with the exception of doctors), COVID-19 is no worse than a big snowstorm that makes them work from home for a while. For working-class people, it is an existential threat, although the relief bill Congress has cooked up may delay the problem for a few months for some (but by no means all) people. So we could easily be heading toward class warfare. Karl Marx foresaw a number of things that might drive the proletariat to the barricades, though a microscopic virus wasn't one of them. But it could happen.

Maureen Callahan wrote a column in the New York Post entitled: "'We should blow up the bridges'—coronavirus leads to class warfare in Hamptons." Ordinary people live in The Hamptons on Long Island and put up with the influx of rich Manhattanites in the summer because they bring in so much money. Now many of those Manhattanites are escaping the city by going out there and buying up all the food. Hoarding has become an issue there. For people with more money than they know what to do with and no social conscience, filling an entire shopping cart with carrots, dropping $8,000 at once at a gourmet grocery store, or buying hundreds of pounds of meat to fill their newly purchased freezers (all of which have been reported), seems perfectly reasonable. For ordinary people, the shelves are bare in some stores, and they would like to eat, too.

In addition, some of the refugees from Manhattan are infected with the coronavirus and it could spread quickly if they spend a lot of time in stores buying up everything edible in Suffolk County. Southampton Hospital, which serves East Hampton, Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor, Noyack, Amagansett, Hampton Bays, Montauk, and Southampton, has only 125 beds, of which only eight are in the intensive care unit. They have only a handful of ventilators. Normally this capacity is sufficient, but in a pandemic, it could be woefully inadequate. Is it surprising that some of the locals feel that class warfare is being waged against them? If the Democrats were about to nominate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), he would take this and run with it, but class warfare is not Joe Biden's thing. (V)

Biden: "I Think We've Had Enough Debates"

The Democratic Party has staged 11 debates this cycle, more than they have ever staged before. The DNC originally planned twelve of them, so if the plan is followed, there should be one more. However, Joe Biden, who would like the primaries to end today with him being crowned as the winner, yesterday said "I think we've had enough debates. I think we should get on with this." (Translation: "Bernie, buzz off. I need to start the general election campaign and not argue with you for the billionth time about Medicare for All.")

The DNC has not responded to Biden's comment. If another debate is held in April, it is very, very unlikely to change the outcome. Both candidates will claim they could handle COVID-19 better than the other one and much better than Donald Trump. They will also go over the same ground they have gone over before many times. It is doubtful anything new would come out of another debate.

Biden could unilaterally cancel the last debate by announcing that he is not going to show up. However, that would cause Sanders' supporters to go ballistic, claiming that Bernie would surely have nailed it in the final debate and would have won all the primaries now moved to May and June. If Biden didn't show or the DNC canceled the debate, Sanders' supporters would once again claim the establishment handed the nomination to one of their own and denied Sanders his rightful nomination. Biden will need those votes in November, so he is undoubtedly better off doing the final debate and using it to attack Trump, not Sanders. Besides, Biden is not a good debater and he could use every bit of practice he can get in preparation for the debates with Trump later on. (V)

German Cathedral Will Showcase St. Corona

Yes, Virginia, there really was a St. Corona. Or maybe Stephanie. Whoever she was, she was martyred in Syria. Or maybe in Alexandria. Or was it in Sicily? Wherever, it was around the year 170, or maybe in the third century. Her feast day in the Catholic Church is May 14. Her speciality is dealing with superstitions involving money, such as gambling and treasure hunting. If you need a bit of help in these matters, she is the one to pray to. Lots of sites are now reporting that she's also the patron saint of epidemics, or of plagues, but doesn't that coincidence seem just a little too tidy? Anyhow, the fact-checking site Snopes says it's not true.

Some of Corona's relics have been lying around in the Aachen Cathedral for about 1,000 years, mostly gathering dust. A lot of dust. Now the folks who run the place have decided that showcasing them would be great PR for their cathedral. Maybe people will come to the cathedral to look at them and pray for the recovery of a loved one who is suffering badly from the coronavirus. In gratitude for her help, people might even leave some spare change behind. It sounds like a better plan than just leaving the relics in the basement untouched for another 1,000 years. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar25 We Have a Deal
Mar25 The 2020 Congressional Elections Are a Whole New Ballgame
Mar25 Trump Wants This Thing Done By Easter
Mar25 New Jersey Blazes an E-Trail
Mar25 Pennsylvania Will Postpone Its Primary
Mar25 Sanders Will Keep Going
Mar25 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part II: The Alien and Sedition Acts (1798)
Mar24 Congress Flails Around...
Mar24 ...And So Does Trump
Mar24 Is It Time to Take Away Trump's Platform?
Mar24 DNC Says They Are Moving Forward with Their Convention
Mar24 List of Primary Postponements Keeps Growing
Mar24 Sanders Wins Another Primary
Mar24 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part I: The Intolerable Acts (1774)
Mar23 Democrats and Republicans Are Far Apart on the Relief Bill
Mar23 States Are Fighting with One Another over Scarce Medical Supplies
Mar23 Trump's Normal Modus Operandi Won't Work This Time
Mar23 Poll: Majority Approve of Trump's Handling the Crisis
Mar23 Burrgate Could Have Consequences for the Senate
Mar23 What Can Sanders Get from Biden?
Mar23 Bloomberg Dumps Staff
Mar23 Rand Paul Has COVID-19
Mar23 Buttigieg Had No Choice
Mar22 Sunday Mailbag
Mar21 Saturday Q&A
Mar20 Senate Unveils Relief Package v3.0
Mar20 Republicans in Denial
Mar20 Trump Has His Scapegoat
Mar20 California Takes the Plunge
Mar20 Three More NBA Players Test Positive for COVID-19
Mar20 An Asymmetric Presidential Campaign
Mar20 Gabbard Ends Presidential Bid
Mar19 Senate Approves Relief Bill as the Stock Market Tanks Again
Mar19 Republicans Have Come to Love Bailouts
Mar19 What Is an Essential Business?
Mar19 Trump Attacks "Chinese Virus"
Mar19 Washing Your Hands Affects the Election
Mar19 Campaigns Are Already Adapting to COVID-19
Mar19 Census Bureau Suspends Operations
Mar19 Weld Calls It Quits
Mar18 Federal Government Gets Ready to Dump Money into the Economy
Mar18 It's a Biden Sweep
Mar18 Maryland Moves Its Primary
Mar18 What's Next for Sanders?
Mar18 Fox Shifts Gears
Mar18 Down Goes Lipinski
Mar18 From the House to the Big House
Mar17 Trump Says Virus Outbreak Could Last for Months
Mar17 What Should Be Done?
Mar17 Ohio Governor Has Postponed Today's Primary