Democrats, please don't waste the coronavirus crisis. Hold out for what Americans need.
President Donald Trump says everyone is working hard to pass additional legislation for economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic. USA TODAY
Democrats should leverage Republican desperation to ensure any coronavirus bailout protects workers, elections and health care. Not CEOs or the GOP.
The party of limited government and fiscal prudence is suddenly in favor of a big bailout and stimulus package for the economy — now, immediately, no time to debate! But when Barack Obama was president and the economy was in free fall, when the unemployment rate was surging towards 10% (instead of today's 3.5%, though it's expected to rise rapidly), Republicans were in no hurry to pass a stimulus package.
They dragged their feet, the Tea Party protested in the streets, and the GOP worried oh-so-piously about the size of the federal budget deficit. Now that a Republican is president (and an election’s coming up), Republicans want a broad and rapid bailout of the economy. Just give us over $1 trillion, and trust President Donald Trump (whose companies went bankrupt six times) to do the right thing!
Lots of Americans are already hurting. They should be helped, and yes, the economy is at a precipice and needs a stimulus package. But the priority should be helping Americans — not helping the GOP win an election. And given the massive amount of money involved, we should take a little extra time to do it right. My concern is not with payments to ordinary Americans, or to help local small businesses, but with the corporate bailout package. The Democrats must condition their cooperation with any corporate bailout package (and/or corporate tax cuts) upon the inclusion of some common-sense fixes.
A previous version of this video incorrectly stated how many people the 1918 Spanish influenza killed. USA TODAY
Here are a few:
►Protecting Obamacare. Trump and the Republicans are (yet again) trying to get the Supreme Court to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional (though it now insures 21 million Americans and protects everyone's access to coverage, including the tens of millions with preexisting medical conditions). If the court strikes it down in late 2020 or early 2021, while coronavirus might still be raging through the country, our health care system could be reduced to chaos.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Any Coronavirus bailout must put workers first
To prevent this disaster scenario, as part of the bailout package, the Trump administration should withdraw its support for the lawsuit and commit to fixing and defending the law. If Republicans are serious about a bipartisan response to coronavirus, this is an obvious place to start.
►Election protection. Many Americans are concerned that Trump (who asked a foreign power to investigate one of his political rivals, and applauded Wikileaks’ violation of his political opponents’ privacy) might use coronavirus as an excuse to interfere with the November elections. Any bailout package must mandate a robust vote-by-mail program in place before the November election (Sens. Ron Wyden and Amy Klobuchar have already introduced this) and protection against foreign interference (a bipartisan Marco Rubio-Chris Van Hollen bill is stalled in the Senate). Congress should also require monthly reports on election protection efforts.
►Help for workers, not shareholders or CEOs. Any corporate bailouts must be judged on the merits, with minimal crony capitalism and political interference. Give the Trump administration as little discretion as possible — no American should be forced to grovel and flatter Trump to get what they’re legally entitled to. Any corporation receiving a bailout should be required to wipe out all shareholder equity, zero out all CEO deferred compensation packages, and replace its top five corporate officers as well as its entire board of directors.
Why? Reputable experts have been warning about the economic and business risks of pandemics for years. If business leaders didn’t prepare their organizations, they own the consequences. This needs to hurt in order to make sure investors and executives learn a lesson. Also, if the government injects any equity into a corporation, government ownership should be non-voting (otherwise, imagine Trump ordering a major employer to close factories in blue states, to move jobs to red states).
►Increase funds for the IRS and provide new resources focused on auditing the rich. Republicans have systematically under-funded the IRS. Outside estimates suggest that with stepped-up enforcement, the government could collect an extra $100 billion a year in taxes (mainly from the wealthy). The next several years will likely be difficult for ordinary Americans. They‘re entitled to know that everyone (including the rich) will pay what they owe.
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►Limit Trump’s ability to govern by emergency order and "acting" appointments. Congress refused to allocate funds for Trump’s border wall, but he went ahead anyway using money from military programs — and the Supreme Court let him do it. Trump has also used the Federal Vacancies Act in a way that makes a mockery of congressional oversight and the Senate's constitutional "advice and consent" responsibility to confirm nominees (for instance, the current Acting Director of National Intelligence is also our Ambassador to Germany). Congress should include in this package whatever amendments are necessary to prevent these end-runs.
►Bake in strong rules and oversight. Any bailout package must include these to prevent it from being used as a slush fund to bolster political fortunes.
Democrats likely won’t get everything they ask for. But this time around, Republicans are desperate to bail out their election chances. The Democrats should use that desperation to get some common-sense reforms passed.
Steven Strauss, the John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @Steven_Strauss