Why won’t Republicans help Americans losing their jobs?
Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on workers. The economy has plunged so quickly that official statistics can’t keep up, but the available data suggest that tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, with more job losses to come and full recovery probably years away.
But Republicans adamantly oppose extending enhanced unemployment benefits — such an extension, says Senator Lindsey Graham, will take place “over our dead bodies.” (Actually, over other people’s dead bodies.)
They apparently want to return to a situation in which most unemployed workers get no benefits at all, and even those collecting unemployment insurance get only a small fraction of their previous income.
Because most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their employers, job losses will cause a huge rise in the number of uninsured. The only mitigating factor is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which will allow many though by no means all of the newly uninsured to find alternative coverage.
But the Trump administration is still trying to have the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional; “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” declared Donald Trump, even though the administration has never offered a serious alternative.
Bear in mind that ending Obamacare would end protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions — and that insurers would probably refuse to cover anyone who had Covid-19.
Finally, the devastation caused by the coronavirus has left many in the world’s wealthiest major nation unable to put sufficient food on the table. Families with children under 12 are especially hard hit: According to one recent survey, 41 percent of these families are already unable to afford enough to eat. Food banks are overwhelmed, with lines sometimes a mile long.
But Republicans are still trying to make food stamps harder to get, and fiercely oppose proposals to temporarily make food aid more generous.
By now everyone who follows the news has a sense of how badly the Trump administration and its allies botched and continue to botch the medical side of the Covid-19 pandemic. Weeks of denial and the failure to implement remotely adequate testing allowed the virus to spread almost unchecked.
Attempts to restart the economy even though the pandemic is far from controlled will lead to many more deaths, and will probably backfire even in purely economic terms as states are forced to lock down again.
But we’re only now starting to get a sense of the Republican Party’s cruelty toward the economic victims of the coronavirus. In the face of what amounts to a vast natural disaster, you might have expected conservatives to break, at least temporarily, with their traditional opposition to helping fellow citizens in need. But no; they’re as determined as ever to punish the poor and unlucky.
What’s remarkable about this determination is that the usual arguments against helping the needy, which were weak even in normal times, have become completely unsustainable in the face of the pandemic. Yet those arguments, zombielike, just keep shambling on.
For example, you still hear complaints that spending on food stamps and unemployment benefits increases the deficit. Now, Republicans never really cared about budget deficits; they demonstrated their hypocrisy by cheerfully passing a huge tax cut in 2017, and saying nothing as deficits surged. But it’s just absurd to complain about the cost of food stamps even as we offer corporations hundreds of billions in loans and loan guarantees.
But what’s even worse, if you ask me, is hearing Republicans complain that food stamps and unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek work. There was never serious evidence for this claim, but right now — at a time when workers can’t work, because doing their normal jobs would kill lots of people — I find it hard to understand how anyone can make this argument without gagging.
So what explains the G.O.P.’s extraordinary indifference to the plight of Americans impoverished by this national disaster?
One answer may be that much of America’s right has effectively decided that we should simply go back to business as usual and accept the resulting death toll. Those who want to take that route may view anything that reduces hardship, and therefore makes social distancing more tolerable, as an obstacle to their plans.
Also, conservatives may worry that if we help those in distress, even temporarily, many Americans might decide that a stronger social safety net is a good thing in general. If your political strategy depends on convincing people that government is always the problem, never the solution, you don’t want voters to see the government actually doing good, even in times of dire need.
Whatever the reasons, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Americans suffering from the economic consequences of Covid-19 will get far less help than they should. Having already condemned tens of thousands to unnecessary death, Trump and his allies are in the process of condemning tens of millions to unnecessary hardship.
As a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a commentator for Fox News, Kim Strassel is a card-carrying member of the mainstream media. But Strassel is appalled by the media’s treatment of Donald Trump, and not just from journalists from the left. She describes the “resistance” in detail in her recent book, Resistance (at All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America. She and Peter Robinson discuss the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the way the media has covered it and disseminated the information to the public. They also discuss the upcoming presidential election (yes, we are still having one) and the politics of the $2 trillion stimulus bill, with more spending on the way, and the realities of restarting the economy in a post- or partial-post-COVID-19 world. Finally, they discuss the pluses and minuses of Donald Trump’s temperament, and the possibility of something good coming from this current crisis.
Officially, a big part of the federal government shut down late last month. In important ways, however, America’s government went AWOL almost two years earlier, when Donald Trump was inaugurated.
After all, politicians supposedly seek office in order to get stuff done — to tackle real problems and implement solutions. But neither Trump, who spends his energy inventing crises at the border, nor the Republicans who controlled Congress for two years have done any of that. Their only major legislative achievement was a tax cut that blew up the deficit without, as far as anyone can tell, doing anything to enhance the economy’s long-run growth prospects.
Meanwhile, there has been no hint of the infrastructure plan Trump promised to deliver. And after many years of denouncing Obamacare and promising to provide a far better replacement, Republicans turned out to have no idea how to do that, and in particular no plan to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Why can’t Republicans govern? It’s not just that their party is committed to an ideology that says that government is always the problem, never the solution. Beyond that, they have systematically deprived themselves of the ability to analyze policies and learn from evidence, because hard thinking might lead someone to question received doctrine.
And Republicans still control the Senate and the White House. So even when (if?) the shutdown ends, it will be at least two years before we have a government in Washington that’s actually capable of, or even interested in, governing.
Until recently Republicans had a virtual lock on state government. Almost half the population lived in states with Republican “trifectas,” that is, G.O.P. control of both houses plus the governorship. Democrats had comparable control in California, and pretty much nowhere else.
But elections since then have transformed the picture. New Jersey and Washington went full Democratic in 2017, and six more states, including Illinois and New York, flipped in November. At this point more than a third of Americans live under full Democratic control, not far short of the Republican total.
These newly empowered majorities are moving quickly to start governing again. And the experience of states that already had Democratic trifectas suggests that they may achieve a lot.
And health care isn’t the only front for new action. For example, Newsom is also proposing major new spending on education and housing affordability. The latter is very important: Soaring housing costs are the biggest flaw in California’s otherwise impressive success story.
Now, let’s be clear: Not all of the new Democratic policy proposals will actually be implemented, and not all of those that do go into effect will live up to expectations. There’s no such thing as perfection, in policy or in life, and leaders who never experience failures or setbacks aren’t taking enough risks.
The point, however, is that newly empowered state and local politicians do seem willing to take risks and try new things in an effort to make progress against the nation’s problems.
And that’s a very hopeful sign for America, because their example may prove contagious.
Justice Louis Brandeis famously described the states as the laboratories of democracy; right now they’re the places where we’re seeing what it looks like when elected officials try to do what they were elected to do, and actually govern. If we’re lucky, two years from now that attitude may re-establish itself in the nation’s capital.