September 10, 2020; Washington Post and Wall Street Journal
In the Washington Post, Erica Werner, Seung Min Kim, and Tony Romm reported last week that “Democrats blocked a pared-down GOP coronavirus relief bill in a bitterly disputed Senate vote…leaving the two parties without a clear path forward to approve new economic stimulus before the November elections.” The bill needed 60 votes to advance given Senate filibuster rules; it received 52 on a party-line vote, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) the only senator to cross party lines.
The stakes are high. As the Post observes, “The failed Senate vote comes amid pleas from Federal Reserve officials and others who have said more fiscal assistance is needed to prevent the economy from sliding further this year. Many of the benefits approved by Congress in the $2 trillion CARES Act in March have run out. Roughly 29 million Americans received some type of jobless aid last week, new Labor Department data show, and large parts of the economy remain under severe strain.”
In NPQ, we mentioned the stalled legislation last Thursday. In May, the US House of Representatives passed the $3-trillion HEROES bill. In late July, Republicans in the Senate countered with the $1 trillion HEALS bill, which never came to a vote.
The bill advanced last week by Senate Republicans sought to split the difference between HEALS and HEROES in order to provide the support suffering Americans need now…no, just kidding. Instead of the $1 trillion in HEALS, the bill offered last week proposed a meager $300 billion in new spending. The official name of the legislation was the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Business Act or DIRAFSSBA.
Yeah, we can see why they chose “skinny” instead.
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But no federal legislation should be left without an acronym. A simple suggestion: how about the Coronavirus Relief Unencumbered by Major Benefits or Services bill? Or, CRUMBS, for short—a name both descriptive and, perhaps, memorable.
What crumbs would the CRUMBS bill, if passed, provide? In keeping with the name, the benefits are modest:
- Money provided to support state and local governments: $0
- Money provided for a second round of stimulus payments: $0
- Supplemental unemployment insurance: $300 a week (half the level of CARES)
- Health care facilities: $29 billion
- Schools: $105 billion
- Post Office: $10 billion
- Business: no new money, but repurposed remaining PPP funds from CARES to enable some small businesses and nonprofits with up to 300 employees to apply for a second round of forgivable loans of up to $2 million.
While slim on benefits or service supports, the bill advanced prominently featured liability release for corporations in Section A. Stunningly, after a two-page introduction, the next 64 pages of the 169-page bill are all about reducing corporations’ liability exposure—the only un-crumblike provision of the bill.
The bill also includes a few standard log-rolling provisions. As Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren note in the Wall Street Journal, “To help win over conservatives who balked at the earlier GOP proposal, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), the new bill includes measures increasing access to private schools, both through funding and tax breaks for scholarships. The bill would also expand the use of 529 education-savings accounts for home-schooling expenses.”
In the meantime, even the modest relief benefits offered are extended for a limited period of time. For instance, the proposed $300-a-week supplemental unemployment insurance boost would expire December 27th. Merry Christmas.—Steve Dubb