The GOP relief bill serves to punish workers and protect businesses, solidifying the GOP’s position as the party of business. Ava DeSantis writes that there is no party of American workers.
On Monday, the GOP unveiled its proposal for a final COVID-19 economic relief package. This proposal, essentially, serves to punish workers who are unable to return to work or choose to stay-at-home for fear of the pandemic. Democratic relief proposals, while preferable to the GOP proposal, failed to represent the interests of working-class people. Democratic leadership, in their attempt to create a non-menacing party, refute the efforts of progressives to represent the interests of workers at the expense of those who would exploit them.
The GOP proposal replaces the $600 per-week unemployment payment in the last package, with a payment of 70% of the worker’s previous wages. Wage replacement would begin in October, through September the bill would afford workers only $200 per week in unemployment. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, among the group working on the proposal, told reporters “we are not going to extend [the unemployment benefits] in a scenario where we’re paying more people to stay home than to work. I think that’s a concept that every American understands.”
“It wouldn’t be fair to use taxpayer dollars to pay more people to sit home,” Mnuchin argued, ignoring the reality that ‘taxpayers’ and people who receive unemployment benefits, are one and the same.
“This is about wage replacement,” continued Mnuchin, “and we don’t want to incentivize people not to work.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, explained “we … intend to continue some temporary federal supplement to unemployment insurance, while fixing the obvious craziness of paying people more to remain out of the workforce.”
It is true that many workers, about 40%, will earn more receiving unemployment payments, than at their former jobs. Mitch McConnell, throughout his Senate career, worked to ensure that a $600 per-week payment would be more than a workers’ wages. In 2019, McConnell opposed a $15 minimum wage, claiming it would “depress the economy at a time of economic boom.” In 2014, he argued against a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, saying it would “destroy between half a million and one million jobs.”
In addition to punishing workers, the legislation protects businesses from lawsuits then fails to protect workers or customers from the COVID-19 virus. Except in cases alleging “gross negligence” or “willful misconduct,” businesses cannot be sued if their employees or customers contract the virus.
The bill also set aside $190 billion for small business loans, and aid for seasonal businesses. In a final insult, the GOP authorized $1.75 billion for the construction of a new FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., allegedly because the President worries that a new hotel might be built in the empty lot near his own hotel if the lot is not used for a government project.
In summary, McConnell and the GOP positioned themselves clearly as the party of business. By opposing benefits to employed workers who, or workers who stay home, even during a pandemic, the GOP does not pretend to seek solutions that benefit all Americans. It is clear, the GOP exists to encourage the exploitation of workers: either by forcing them to work during a pandemic or by forcing them to accept a wage which makes unemployment a raise.
The GOP knows politics is a contest of interests; to be the party of business, disallows you from being the party of labor. Democrats, on the other hand, view their path to victory “a bold progressive agenda that is mainstream and non-menacing,” according to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Democratic leadership fails to recognize that the interests of working-class people are inherently in opposition to the interests of business. To be non-menacing to business is to fail to be a party of labor.
While Democrats argued for an extension of the $600 per-week unemployment benefits, the party’s leadership fails to represent the interests of the working class beyond this meager offering. “I’m all for $600 because people really need it. ...I go to the table with the commitment to the $600,” said Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, reacting to the GOP proposal on Capitol Hill Monday, said “this is wrong. We have to do what’s right for the American people.” Other Democrats issued similar platitudes, pointing to economists who called the proposal a “poor policy choice.”
“It is unclear to me right now how we will resolve several contentious issues,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. “Until McConnell begins to negotiate with Democrats, we are not going to get anywhere… It’s going to be a rough road. There are a lot of competing interests. A lot.” Coons’ refusal to name these ‘interests’ speaks volumes on the Democratic failure to represent the interests of working-class Americans, opting instead to represent ruling class interests only slightly less harshly than their Republican counterparts.
Democratic leadership in the House chose not to include a paycheck guarantee program, proposed by progressives in their Caucus, in the May COVID-19 relief bill. This refusal prompted Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to vote against the HEROES Act. Jayapal wrote in a statement “more than 36 million people have filed for unemployment in only eight weeks and a full 40% of households earning less than $40,000 lost a job in March alone. Mass unemployment is a choice and we cannot wait to let the rate of unemployment rise to 40% or 50%, which it will do if we do not act boldly.”
Democrats, although they advocate against additional Republican pressure for workers to return to work by cutting unemployment benefits, are comfortable with the existing pressure for workers to risk their safety and not refuse work during the pandemic. The most obvious pressure being that unemployment benefits only exist for fired or laid-off workers, you cannot receive unemployment if you quit your job. People who rely on income cannot refuse to risk their health to produce wealth for their employers, Democratic leaders are comfortable with this.
Even workers offered a leave of absence, which would not classify a worker as having ‘quit’ their job, worry that they will not be granted unemployment benefits if they accept it. Eva Coyle, a part-time worker at a North Carolina grocery store, said this uncertainty forced her to “throw myself at the mercy” of the social safety net. Democrats are comfortable with this.
Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden includes in his COVID-19 response platform, “the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19.” However, Biden does not recognize the need for working-class people to have healthcare coverage outside the COVID-19 virus. In fact, Biden told MSNBC he would veto a Medicare for All bill if it passed the legislature while he was in office.
Shahid Buttar, a progressive challenger of Nancy Pelosi’s House seat, described the Democratic CARES Act as an “opportunistic, redistributive attempt to take advantage of the pandemic as a pretext to redistribute wealth to the 1% and corporations,” which is “skewed to serve corporate interests.”
“At the same time that the coronavirus stimulus package allowed a $1200, one-time stimulus payment for some Americans,” explained Buttar “40,000 millionaires got tax breaks of over a million dollars.”
Buttar called for Pelosi to “protect working people” by committing to an emergency UBI, free COVID-19 treatment for all, paid sick leave, suspension of rent, evictions, foreclosures, loan, debt, and mortgage payments, and suspension of ICE enforcement. Additionally, Buttar demands Pelosi include housing for the homeless in the Democratic COVID-19 relief bill. Pelosi not only fails to consider these demands, but she also refuses to debate Buttar.
Pelosi seemingly does not want to be forced to publicly contend with the Democratic Party’s failure to represent the interests of working people. She does not want to hear Buttar’s criticism of her COVID-19 platform bill.
The CARES Act promised a “workers-first focus,” in the words of Rep. Pelosi. The legislation was more accurately described by Buttar and by housing rights activist Tara Raghuveer, who complained that the bill’s limited eviction protection, housing assistance, and subsidized housing did not protect 72% of renters. “Homeowners are being taken care of, property owners are being taken care of, banks are being taken care of many times over. We should be asking ourselves why tenants and poor folks and working-class people have been left behind,” said Raghuveer.
I offer Raghuveer this explanation: Democrats want to be non-menacing to landlords, the wealthy, and other ruling class people, and the GOP is decidedly a party of business. There is no American party of tenants, poor folks, or working-class people.
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