March 23 — The emergency $1.8 trillion rescue bill for the combination COVID-19 and economic crisis stalled in the Senate last night. Democratic senators balked at saluting an open and obvious Republican giveaway to the super-rich who own and control the U.S. economy.
Observers expect the two capitalist parties that dominate U.S. political life — Republican and Democratic — will reach a “compromise,” as there is pressure on the Democrats to give in. The resulting bill, which the president is expected to sign, might provide a few more crumbs for the workers.
These are the same working people of all nationalities and skills who the whole country can now see are indispensable for the functioning of society. With many other workers and students forced to stay at home and shelter in place, medical caregivers, sanitation workers, food workers of all kinds from the farm to the supermarket and those who deliver goods and transport people are showing they are really essential to modern society.
Karl Marx wrote that the history of humanity has been a history of class struggle. The appearance of the new virus and the market crash only exacerbated that class struggle between the biggest capitalists and the working class. Now the U.S. ruling class is pursuing every stop to make sure it gets all or nearly all of the nearly $2 trillion first installment provoked by the crisis.
The March 21 New York Times “quote of the day” indicated how in the struggle between workers and their bosses, the bosses are giving full attention to this government relief package. It quotes Democratic House Representative Ro Khanna of California: “The only industry that hasn’t been slowed down by the virus is the lobbying industry.”
Khanna was referring to “the frantic efforts by lobbyists of all stripes to get a piece” of those trillions.
The capitalists want it all
As usual, the super-rich capitalists want it all. And the record of the Trump administration and the Republican Party is to give everything away to the rich. From the beginning, Trump gave the capitalists and the corporations a trillion dollars in tax cuts, opened up government lands to plunder and constricted the rights of workers to organize.
The record of the Democratic Party leadership is to put up some token opposition and then capitulate. That’s what the Democrats did last week with the first emergency bill that was supposed to give the public health system some way of containing the virus. Some $58 billion of the money appropriated was earmarked instead to subsidize the airlines industry.
That bill’s major provisions were supposed to make it possible for workers to stay at home when they’re sick so they wouldn’t spread the virus − paid sick leave for all. In the end this provision covered only a quarter of the working class.
The paid sick leave provision omitted those 48 percent of workers who are employed by giant corporations like Amazon, Walmart, Burger King, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, etc., which employ more than 500 people and don’t give paid sick leave. It potentially omits the 27 percent of workers employed by small businesses with fewer than 50 workers.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander was so opposed to ordering paid sick leave — in his ideological panic that it might become a permanent rule — that he prevented a better plan from being enacted and almost shot down the entire first emergency bill.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr not only protected the property of the super-rich, but he increased his own. He used his insider knowledge about the pandemic from being chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to “unload 33 stocks owned by him and his spouse” just before the crash. You can read about this in a March 22 article in The Guardian by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. (tinyurl.com/r3djtx3)
Now all the big corporations are using their lobbyists and their other means of pressuring elected representatives to make sure that the $1.8 trillion package, allegedly aimed at preventing an economic collapse, serves their particular, narrow interests, just as Burr did. They want bailouts for their industry, interest-free loans, etc.
Meanwhile there is no equally strong voice for the working class.
The biggest noise from the Democratic Party leadership — an accomplice to this giveaway — came when spokesperson Sen. Chuck Schumer complained about the proposed bill. Schumer told reporters on March 22 that the bill as currently written would give bailouts to major corporations without accountability and that it would not provide enough funding for health care workers on the front lines.
This same Democratic leadership already made a big contribution to big business by pushing down the Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. Despite Sanders’ limitations — staying safely within the capitalist framework — he at least raised some major points on March 17 regarding an emergency package. (tinyurl.com/uxpzalm)
Sanders called for a monthly $2,000 payment to every U.S. household for the duration of the coronavirus crisis; for unemployment insurance of up to 100 percent of a worker’s prior salary with a cap of $75,000; a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs; and a waiver on all student loan payments.
Sanders also called for Medicare to pick up the medical costs related to COVID-19 and for the federal government to coerce suitable industries to produce needed medical materials. Trump is instead trying to coax or bribe corporations into stepping up, so far with little success.
To the extent the final compromise bill lacks vital gains for the workers, it will show how much the Democratic leadership has capitulated to the corporate thieves and their representatives in Congress. It will also show further how a system based on profit is ill-equipped to protect the health of the people.