Lord, Save Us From the Deficit Scolds

My Morning Dissent: Dec. 2, 2020

Yesterday, a bipartisan group of centrist senators unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus aid package that is essentially the textbook definition of “the least you can do.” The deal includes: 

  • $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits for four months.

  • $160 billion in funding for state and local governments.

  • A temporary moratorium on some COVID-related lawsuits.

This followed a new offer from House Dems to the Senate on Monday night, the details of which haven’t been revealed, and came amid a more conservative pitch from Senate Republicans that would be DOA in the House. The flurry of activity could signal a possible end to the months-long stalemate—which, I suppose, is better than nothing.

  • “Economists have warned of devastating consequences for the economy and millions of Americans if no stimulus deal is passed. A number of relief programs are set to expire at the end of the year.”

  • “The White House has largely abandoned its aggressive push for stimulus since Trump lost the Nov. 3 presidential election.” (WaPo)

President-elect Biden has indicated that Congress needs to pass an aid package now—and a much larger stimulus when he takes office. Policy-wise, he’s obviously correct. Politics-wise, it depends.

  • “The scope of stimulus legislation will likely turn on the results of the Senate run-offs in Georgia in early January, a little more than two weeks before Biden is inaugurated. If either Democrat fails to unseat their GOP incumbent rivals, and the body remains under the thumb of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, Biden's ambitions will be checked from the outset.” (CNN)

IT’S AN EMERGENCY: A new study of SNAP recipients in the early months of the pandemic found that by mid-June: 

  • 35% had lost their jobs.

  • 50% were housing insecure.

  • 64% were food insecure.

  • 77% had acquired new debt.

  • The point: “To the extent that the present results highlight the insufficient protectiveness of safety-net programs in helping recipients cover basic needs, this is due to insufficient generosity rather than insufficient accessibility. In  other  words,  existing  benefits  are  not  large  enough to address recipients’ basic needs during the COVID-19  shutdown.”

RELATED: Paul Krugman notes that Biden’s economic brain trust seems to have learned a lesson from the Obama years: Ignore the deficit scolds. (NYT)

  • “Some of us were worried about whether Biden would pick up where Obama left off—whether he would choose Very Serious People, still wedded to the old debt obsession, for his economic team.”

  • “But the reality is that as far as I can tell, all of Biden’s economic picks are people who understand that federal debt isn’t currently a major policy concern, whereas it would be a disaster if we don’t spend enough either to get through the pandemic or on crucial long-run issues, especially climate change.”

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+ Both Sides: Student Debt Cancellation

Pro: Debt cancellation would benefit Black and Latinx communities. 

The persistence of the racial wealth gap and predatory lending practices means that Black and Latinx communities are more economically precarious and indebted than their white counterparts. Black women are the most burdened by student-loan debt and often have to resort to payday loans with onerous terms. Without an intervention, the same communities disproportionately devastated by covid-19 will be dealt an economic death blow, compounding the damage wrought by the mortgage crisis. (New Yorker

Con: Debt cancellation would benefit high earners. 

Full or partial forgiveness is regressive because high earners took larger loans, but also because, for low earners, balances greatly overstate present values. Consequently, forgiveness would benefit the top decile as much as the bottom three deciles combined. Blacks and Hispanics would also benefit substantially less than balances suggest. (Becker Friedman Institute, UChicago Working Paper)

+ Briefs: 3 Stories to Read Today

  • “The Justice Department is investigating a potential crime related to funneling money to the White House or related political committee in exchange for a presidential pardon, according to court records unsealed Tuesday in federal court.” “The documents show that U.S. prosecutors were scrutinizing whether two individuals approached senior Trump White House officials as unregistered lobbyists, and a related scheme in which cash would be funneled through intermediaries for a pardon or reprieve of a sentence for a defendant apparently in U.S. Bureau of Prisons custody at some point. The status of the investigation is unclear.” (CNN, WaPo, court doc)

    • RELATED: Michael Flynn’s broad pardon includes “any and all possible offenses” arising from the Mueller investigation. (NYT, court doc)

    • Rudy Giuliani would like his pardon, too. (NYT)

    • OK, everyone wants a pardon, from Trump’s family and allies to the damn Tiger King guy. (ABC, NYT)

  • “President Trump’s Save America PAC … generated $150 million in contributions over the course of November …. [It] is a leadership PAC, a type of committee formed by current or former elected officials. Many prominent members of Congress, past and current, have similar committees, allowing them to take contributions that can be used to contribute to other candidates or to fund political activity. Or, really, to fund basically anything. The money in the Save America PAC, unlike money contributed to a standard campaign committee, can be used to benefit Trump in innumerable ways. Memberships at golf clubs. Travel. Rallies. Even payments directly to Trump himself, as long as he declares it as income.” (WaPo)

  • “While Americans agree that the COVID pandemic is getting worse, there is a chasm between Democrats and Republicans about how serious the situation is, with 62% of Democrats saying the current situation with COVID is ‘extremely serious,’ compared with only 33% of Republicans feeling the same way. … This poll highlights the urgent need to change our pandemic lexicon … For example: Forty-nine percent of Americans consider a ‘pandemic’ more ‘significant, serious and scary’ than ‘COVID-19’ (39%) or ‘the coronavirus’ (13%). Respondents had a much more positive reaction to a ‘stay-at-home order’ than a ‘lockdown’ or ‘aggressive restrictions.’” (de Beaumont Foundation / Frank Luntz)

Share INFORMED DISSENT by Jeffrey Billman

+ The Rundown

  • COVID-19 had likely reached the US by mid-December 2019. (WSJ, sub. req.)

  • Scott Atlas, the White House pandemic adviser who embraced herd immunity and other sociopathic quackery, has resigned. (WaPo)

  • Leaked documents show what everyone already assumed to be true: China severely downplayed the significance of its early COVID outbreak. (CNN)

  • Trump is laying the groundwork to purge the government of civil servants on his way out and sabotage the Biden administration. (WaPo)

  • Bill Barr named John Durham “special counsel” so that he could complete his investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation regardless of the election result. (Axios)

  • Even Bill Barr’s DOJ can’t find evidence of election fraud. (NYT)

  • Normal country watch: Attorney Lin Wood, who helped file the dumb Kraken lawsuits, is taking out a full-page ad in the Washington Times to urge Trump to declare martial law and hold another election if courts and Congress don’t “follow the law.” (Gateway Pundit, click at your own peril)

  • Normal country watch, part 2: Trump’s campaign attorney called for the summary execution of the election security chief Trump fired for saying the election was secure. (TPM)

  • Congressional Republicans are considering challenging the election results on the House floor, a last-ditch effort to save Trump’s presidency. (Politico)

  • Senator Josh Hawley says Biden’s nominees don’t deserve a vote because “Democrats deprived President Trump of a working government for four years.” Republicans controlled the Senate throughout Trump’s presidency, and the House for the first two years. (Politico)

  • The Supreme Court appeared skeptical of the Trump administration’s claim that it could exclude undocumented immigrants from the Census. (WaPo)

  • I fail to understand Democrats’ attraction to Rahm Emanuel, but here we are. (AP)

  • Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee to run OMB, has pissed off everyone on Twitter at one point or another. (Guardian)

  • Iowa certified the results of its 2nd Congressional District race. The Republican won by, um, six votes. (Dave Wasserman)

  • Stocks are kicking ass. (AP)

  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a 2024 presidential wannabe, wants to make it legal for business owners to kill anyone they believe might commit “criminal mischief that results in the interruption or impairment of a business operation.” (Orlando Sentinel)

Thanks for reading.