Deal, Not No Deal
The Senate passed the stimulus Wednesday night. Inside a government trying to control the chaos.
WASHINGTON– The United States has conducted a dark Mass.
Twelve years after a series of bailout packages, which vaulted populist politics from the American fringe to the Washington main, an outsiders’ administration enacted, in its own terming, the “largest … assistance package in the history of the United States.”
Depending on how you cut it, that’s right.
In response to a medieval crisis, the COVID-19 plague, a slew of ostensible Tea Partiers, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to say nothing of President Donald Trump, himself, have turned to a more ancient faith: government spending.
Trump, of course, was always more Nixon, than Reagan, banishing a foreign policy bellicosity that served us in the Cold War, but has led us to blunder since. Trump’s first, floated run for president, in the 1988 cycle, was Republican, but not Reaganite. It’s too cute by a country mile to say there are no libertarians in a pandemic, but here in DC, most, indeed, are Keynesians again. There will be two trillion in fiscal stimulus, White House economic pointman Lawrence Kudlow, an ex-Reagan hand, explained this week, on top of our four trillion in monetary assistance, “The largest Main Street financial package in the history of the United States. Liquidity and cash for families, small business, individuals, unemployed to keep things going.”
Layman’s terms: as of Wednesday, with a late-nite Senate sign-off, Congress has nearly passed the largest stimulus measure since the Great Recession, and Jerome Powell’s Federal Reserve is injecting an additional four trillion of liquidity into the system, a repeat play from the Bush-Obama years of quantitative easing. With a nation in lockdown, an affirmative House vote by week’s end is seen as a lock.
When Powell was appointed Fed chair early in Trump’s time in office, there was a debate about whether he would tap a “dove” in the mold of Benjamin Bernanke, Janet Yellen and the approach that helped steer America clear of a second Great Depression. Former Fed board governor Kevin Warsh, popular in Republican donor circles, bridegroom of a Lauder (Estee Lauder) heir and a “hawk,” was considered but passed over in favor of Powell, essentially a Republican version of Yellen.
The president has lashed Powell since, complaining about modest interest rate hikes, but in the face of the emergency rate slashes last week, that’s spilt milk under the bridge. If concerns about inflation were ever on offer, they are sidelined now. Ditto real discussion of the debt. Many Americans — judging by Trump’s early, actually superb ratings of his handling of this crisis — will, again, throw up their hands and judge these measures for what they, perhaps, are: necessary evil.
Mnuchin says checks could be sent to households on a timeline like three weeks. Married couples with multiple children, who took in less than $150,000 last year, can expect over three grand in relief. Trump’s not exactly dealing out chump change. Mnuchin says that the idea is that should hold over Americans three months, through midsummer– all the while Mnuchin’s boss wants the U.S. getting back to work after Easter.
The Dems are dismissing the latter idea out of hand, and Pelosi wouldn’t commit to the former Wednesday, undoubtedly cognizant that her party’s socialist flank, still led by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, will push loudly for greater, different measures if the situation continues down its present sorry path. Further kvetching over the government’s generosity to the country’s corporations is assured, though it’s perhaps no time to quibble with the patient’s drug habit while she’s bleeding out on the table.
There’s another problem.
Maybe more than any land, work and mobility are embedded into the credo of our people, a national charter. As large tracts of Europe, East Asia and now North America shut down, there exists an anxiety that the United States is particularly ill-suited, temperamentally, for a Corona closure, especially with lingering doubts about the seriousness of the virus, doubtless being sewn by the president himself.
And, if the virus is relatively contained, a promising but not assured prospect, that hardly means the economic contagion will be.
“Our country’s not supposed to be, you know, it’s not built to shut down,” the president told Fox in the Rose Garden Tuesday. He was surely channeling Whitman, who wrote, “For we cannot tarry here, We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger. … O you youths, Western youths, So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship. … Pioneers! O Pioneers.”
Not exactly the advice coming from Anthony Fauci.