Release of the weekly unemployment claims on Thursday brought the news we’ve all been dreading.
BRACE YOURSELF. I have been a labor economist for a very long time and have never seen anything like this. Here are last week’s initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims. (1/n) pic.twitter.com/fWhljQF9ww
— Heidi Shierholz (@hshierholz) March 26, 2020
The 3.28 million people who filed unemployment claims dwarfs the previous record of 695,000 in 1982. Obama Labor Department official Chris Lu tweeted that the actual situation is far worse because:
-Unemployed don’t always apply immediately for UI
-Many shelter-in-place orders only started this week
-Gig workers/independent contractors can’t apply for UI
-Some state UI systems have crashed
That is why passage of a stimulus bill by Congress is so urgent. Wednesday night, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill 96-0 and Speaker Pelosi has promised to take up the measure Friday, noting that it is not likely that she will be able to do so via unanimous consent. Instead, they are making these provisions for a voice vote.
“In order to protect the safety of Members and staff and prevent further spread of COVID-19 through Members’ travel, the Republican Leader and I expect that the House vote on final passage will be done by voice vote,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced Wednesday night. “Members who want to come to the House Floor to debate this bill will be able to do so. In addition, we are working to ensure that those who are unable to return to Washington may express their views on this legislation remotely.”
There is a lot of inaccurate reporting on how we got here, so perhaps a quick timeline will help to illuminate.
Thursday, March 19 – Majority Leader McConnell released a bill he had crafted behind closed doors with no Democratic input.
Saturday, March 21 – Democratic Senators report that McConnell cut off negotiations over his bill.
Sunday, March 22 – McConnell brought his bill up for a procedural vote and it failed 47-47.
Monday, March 23 – McConnell brought his bill up for a procedural vote again and it failed 49-46.
Monday, March 23 – Pelosi released a bill for the House that included a wish-list of items for Democrats.
Monday, March 23 – Schumer continued to negotiate changes to McConnell’s bill with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. By late that night, they reported that they were nearing a deal.
Wednesday, March 25 – A deal is reached and, after several Republican Senators complained about the unemployment benefits, it passed unanimously.
Obviously Monday was the crucial day in the process of reaching an agreement. I have suggested that Schumer and Pelosi played good cop-bad cop, with the Speaker basically telling Republicans to work with Schumer or they’d have to deal with her in the House. That strategy was affirmed by the fact that Pelosi dropped any attempt to promote the Democratic wish-list once Schumer had negotiated a deal that included their priorities. She’s taking some heat from right-wing news for “failing,” but I’m sure that’s a price she’s willing to pay for getting this important work done.
In the end, what were Schumer and Pelosi able to accomplish with this strategy?
- Unemployment benefits – an extra $600 per week for up to four months, on top of state unemployment benefits.
- Loans to corporations, cities, and states – an inspector general and accountability committee to oversee how the money is spent. Also included is a provision that bars Trump, Pence, members of Congress and heads of executive departments from getting access to these funds.
- Cash to individuals – the $1,200 per person and $500 per child was extended to include those who don’t file tax returns.
- Hospitals – $100 billion to treat those with coronavirus.
- Airline bailout – the $58 billion comes with strings: no stock buybacks, and limits on executive compensation. Half the funds would go toward “the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits.”
- State and local governments – $150 billion to compensate for lost tax revenue.
- Food Stamps – $25 billion for food assistance, including nearly $16 billion for SNAP and nearly $9 billion for child nutrition.
- Schools – $30 billion in emergency education funding for colleges and universities, states and school districts.
Beyond recognizing how Schumer and Pelosi were able to accomplish all of that, it is important to keep in mind how different this outcome will be from what happened with the 2009 stimulus bill that was passed in response to the Great Recession. Unlike McConnell, who sat on his hands and did nothing but attempt to obstruct a bill from passing, Democratic leaders worked tirelessly to negotiate provisions that put American workers first.
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