The most outrageous debate occurring in the nation’s capital this week is whether the federal government should provide relief to state and local governments as they struggle to gain control of the Covid-19 pandemic. Really? We are aware of how the convoluted thinking of Donald Trump works to undercut this much needed relief—he believes states and cities under the leadership of Democrats have been irresponsible with budgets and are not deserving of receiving money from the federal government. He must sign the legislation so Senate Republicans feel obligated to carry his water.
Complicating negotiations are ideological differences. Take funding for schools as an example. School districts are facing seemingly unsurmountable budgetary demands as they struggle to adjust to the tsunami of the pandemic. Democrats are rightfully insisting that the bulk of funding goes to public schools while Republicans are seeking significant funding for private schools. Republicans are pushing to open schools hastily to please Trump who needs to resurrect the economy quickly if he is to have any chance of holding on to his seat of power. Few, if any, disagree with the need for students to return to classrooms but the health risks are significant.
Whose money are we talking about anyway? Our money. These are taxpayer dollars that our elected representatives are debating. A recent CNBC/Change Research poll of swing-state voters in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin found that more than two-thirds (69%) of responding voters support federal relief for states and local governments. Yet, if no action is taken, thousands of state and local government employees will be laid off, many infrastructure projects will be curtailed forcing more layoffs, cuts will be made to community and economic development programs that support local businesses, and health systems will be stretched to their limits as they struggle to contain the coronavirus.
The poll also found that a majority of respondents (62%) wants the government to continue to provide enhanced unemployment benefits of $600 weekly to workers idled by COVID-19. This has been a major sticking point in the negotiations as staunch conservative Republicans are convinced that many workers are being paid more than they earn on the job and would prefer to stay home than to return to work. Sounds logical but think about this—if your employer calls you back to work and you refuse, what is the likely outcome? You would be out of a job. A recent Yale study found no effects. Eighty percent of voters also want the feds to send another $1,200 check to Americans earning less than $99,000.
The poll also found that only a third of respondents supports giving businesses legal immunity from lawsuits from workers forced to return under less than optimal conditions which is roughly the number of Trump’s most zealous supporters. So why don’t our representatives just follow the public’s wishes? Their lack of response seems to confirm Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page’s research that found affluence means influence.
Of course, there are a handful of Republican senators who have a newfound concern about budget deficits. These are the same gentlemen who have been supporting huge tax cuts for the wealthy including the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act that failed on its promises and added to the federal deficit. They were all too ready to rescue businesses in the wake of the pandemic with a $2 trillion CARES Act that will add more to the deficit. Some of that money found its way into the pockets of congressmembers and hedge fund managers. There is no end in sight to the Federal Reserve’s funding of the corporate sector. Yet, some of these same senators gave Barack Obama hell for his relatively modest $831 billion stimulus package.
Most economists agree that this latest round of bailouts will only worsen economic inequality. The economy is broken and in dire need of repair and rebalancing. Workers have waiting for the trickle down since Ronald Reagan. Removing Trump from office is only the beginning. We cannot lose sight of the fact that unless substantial structural changes are made to our society and economy the plutocrats will continue to rule and the masses will be fighting among ourselves for the crumbs falling from the masters’ tables. There will be little chance for racial equity and justice in the oligarchy.