Twelve-hundred dollars is a lot of money when you’re shopping for a bottle of booze or an inflatable water slide—you know, the essentials. But it’s a paltry sum when it comes to paying for the actual essentials: a mortgage or rent payment, groceries, utility bills, a Netflix subscription (because you need something to watch while stuck at home).
So while the up to $1,200 per person (plus $500 per kid) payments sent out by the IRS under the terms of the CARES Act are better than nothing, they are inadequate if the goal of the policy is to help Americans maintain their pre-pandemic standard of living. The unemployment rate is over 11 percent, and millions more are hurting in other ways — reduced hours, vanishing commissions, permanent layoffs, and even medical bills from a COVID-19 hospital stay.
It’s only natural, then, to wonder if (and hope that) more payments are on the way. A reporter, after noting that some folks had been living off of $1,200 for a couple of months, asked Trump about that possibility in May. Here was the president’s reply:
Well, something could happen. There is talk about something happening, and we’ll see what — what’s going on. But you know the…You know the greatest thing that can happen? If we could get our country open again and get it going again and have people have these great jobs again. And what we’ve done is we’ve been able to have all of these thousands and hundreds of thousands of small businesses pay their employees, even though there was no income coming in. So they’re ready to rock, and they’re ready to go.
You can read that as many times as you like, but you’ll never read the president expressing support for future payments or mentioning his own work to make them a reality. He seems even less supportive than he did a month earlier when he offered a lukewarm “under serious consideration” about more stimulus payments.
This response segued into a discussion about how reopening the country would be “the greatest thing that can happen.” Trump’s eagerness to return to “normal,” thousands of additional casualties be damned, is palpable even in the transcript. And if things are normal, then he gets to avoid being the “you don’t get any more money” guy, a role that some of his most important allies have no problem playing.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise called monthly stimulus payments “radical socialist ideas,” and not in a good way. Senators John Cornyn and John Barrasso both said earlier this week that it was too early to talk about another stimulus, which must be news to the two-thirds of Americans who say they would need another payment within three months.
And as is their nature, Republicans have presented a united front on a different policy — shielding businesses from COVID-19-related lawsuits—that foregrounds the interests of businesses over the people they employ.
“If there’s any red line [for Republicans], it’s on litigation,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell started to sound the alarm on the deficit back in May, using it to justify his opposition to funding for state and local governments, but he’s more recently softened his tone as the economy continues to flounder months into the pandemic. But if another payment does actually come to pass, don’t expect it to be as broad or as generous as those of the CARES Act — and expect it to be loaded with protections for businesses, even those who put their workers at risk.