By Ramin Mazaheri and by author permission crossposted with Sputniknews.
We are currently experiencing the biggest era of American division in 50 years, but one thing Americans are united in is that they want additional coronavirus stimulus: a poll last week showed 70% of respondents demand a re-routing of taxes back their way.
The reasons for that are too numerous to list here, but it’s not hyperbole to summarise that national economic indicators suggest either “Great Depression II” or “Great Recession-er.”
Yet for months Congress has remained deadlocked on concluding a relief plan which would get scores of millions of Americans to back away from the ledge, the bottle, the prescription pill and the daily conversations they are having with each other about their very serious economic desperation and hopelessness.
The coronavirus seems likely to deal a death blow to the neoliberal form of capitalism, which has always been a faith-based ideology with a terrible track record, anyway: in a major crisis a central government simply must provide services and aid, and simply cannot continue to slash itself into neoliberal-ordered nothingness.
While rational American conservatives are slowly coming around on this, the nation’s top Republican lawmakers are not.
A comparison of the $3.4 trillion Democrat and the $1.1 trillion Republican stimulus plans shows that the biggest disagreement comes on the core neoliberal and libertarian tenet of eliminating government as much as possible: Democrats want $1.1 trillion earmarked for state and local governments, while Republicans propose just $100 billion. More than a few fiscally-reactionary Republicans think the original $2.2 trillion CARES Act overstepped the absurd limits they set on government, but the vast majority of conservatives in Congress are simply not going to allow the coronavirus to roll back their four decades of efforts to reduce government at all levels.
It should be remembered that in the American federal system local government plays – or used to – a much larger role than in most other countries. The coronavirus also seems likely to deal another death blow – to those who insist on a weak central government: the fragmented and chaotic US response to the pandemic is a direct result of their insistence on “states’ rights” over national well-being, which makes a unified response to any type of crisis fundamentally impossible.
So when truly half of the disputed difference between the two plans is over this radical and unusually-American neoliberal issue, we should not expect Republicans to capitulate anytime soon. Yet as the grassroots support for more stimulus reminds us – the Republican elite in Washington are obviously totally out of touch with the economic fears of the average Republican elsewhere.
On the other side of the aisle, one should not assume that Democrats are totally genuine in their desire to extend greater help to American citizens.
After all, if they wanted to re-inflate local and state governments so badly, why didn’t they include greater redistribution in the CARES Act? Every political operator knew that their chances were better at the start of the coronavirus hysteria, and also that the chances for bipartisan agreement (obviously necessary in a Republican-controlled Senate) would decrease closer to election day.
The $1.1 trillion for state and local government looks more like a phony “poison pill” designed to inflame Republican ideological morals when combined with the fact that the Democrat plan contains exactly zero additional aid for small businesses, who have always provided the backbone of the Republican Party. Small-business aid is the second-largest component of the Republican’s second stimulus plan, at $200 billion. Zero for small businesses – which provide over 40% of national economic output – is not only idiotic and guaranteed to perpetuate economic misery, but can easily be perceived by Republicans as an ideological slap in the face.
Many wonder if the plan of the Democratic elite all along was to drag their feet on what they wanted at the start of the coronavirus panic in order to put themselves in a position to accuse Republicans of dragging their feet on a deal closer to November. Allowing an already-festering country to rot for months in order to win an election sounds like bad governance bordering on treason, but the anti-Trump faction among the US 1% is surely willing to do anything to get the rogue politician out of office.
Last month Trump smartly circumvented Congress to extend desperately-needed jobless benefits to tens of millions of Americans – what’s perplexing is why Trump isn’t already talking about doing that again? Aiding suffering constituents shouldn’t be denigrated as corrupt “patronage” or “vote-buying” – it’s good governance. Unfortunately, elite Republicans ideologically insist that “good governance” is an oxymoron.
Trump was elected in 2016 precisely because he defied Republican leadership and ideology – the best way for him to get re-elected would be to revert to that form, and to send another round of direct stimulus to voters.
That may require bypassing Congress again, which seems unlikely to agree on a significant compromise. This allows both sides to blame each other for economic woes all the way up until November 3, but it crucially allows “the swamp” to do something which they emphatically agree on: blaming Trump for every problem in order to get the unprecedented outsider out of office.
Ramin Mazaheri is currently in the US covering their elections. He is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.