Too little, too late – better than nothing?
The reported reaction of many to the CARES Act 2 — which is about to be passed as we write this editorial — is that it’s too little, too late and, sigh, better than nothing.
In truth it is the minimum that a ruling-class dominated Congress could pass — just before layoffs, evictions and a spreading virus were about to cast tens of millions more working-class families into poverty, houselessness and capitalist chaos.
While the Democratic Party shares the blame for this travesty, Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republicans led the attack on the working class. They did this by sabotaging pandemic relief for the past seven months before announcing an agreement Dec. 20.
The number of unemployed grows each week, coupled with increased mass hunger. The poverty rate rivals that following the 2008-09 capitalist collapse. Inequality increases daily with the all-too-usual racist bias, as the rich few grow richer. And families are already being evicted and forced to live on the streets or in COVID-19 susceptible shelters.
The looming eviction crisis is so bad that the Dec. 20 New York Times ran a feature story about a Springfield, Mass., sheriff who felt remorse about kicking people out of their homes. He still evicted them.
Instead of a comprehensive emergency measure to rescue the population, we get CARES 2. Too little because it runs out quickly. Too late, because a June deal could have stopped much pain. Compare this measly CARES 2 with what should be possible even under 21st century U.S. capitalism.
The first CARES Act, passed in April, was a big pandemic relief package — $2.2 trillion (million million) — with many problems. It omitted aid for undocumented workers. For gig workers, applying for unemployment payments had major obstacles. But in the end, it still kept tens of millions of workers’ heads above water.
To supplement the CARES Act, in mid-May House Democrats passed the HEROES Act. It allocated $3.4 trillion to bail out small businesses, leave most unemployed workers a livable income and finance cash-starved state, local, territorial and tribal governments — while preventing evictions and delivering COVID-19 medical care. Had it passed the Senate, it would be saving tens of millions of people from poverty.
McConnell wouldn’t even let it be discussed. And the Democrats knew that was what to expect from him.
After a seven-month delay, the two parties finally agreed on a CARES Act 2 bill. It costs about $900 billion, less than one-third of the HEROES Act. Compared to the first CARES Act, it halves the one-time payment to every documented worker with income under $75,000 from $1,200 to $600. It shrinks the supplemental unemployment insurance payments from $600 to $300 a week and only extends these for another 11 weeks.
Too late to save millions of workers already lost. Too little to let people relax.
McConnell called the bill a “triumph,” because for the super-rich it avoided massive turmoil at minimum cost. The Democrats called it a “down payment,” because they promised much more to their working class constituents, including Black and Brown people.
Schumer and Pelosi imply that the Democrats will fight for more and do it soon, i.e., after Biden takes office. But they have already shown that they will go the extra mile to “compromise” with the Republicans and the ruling class.
Republicans hypocritically insisted the budget be balanced. The truth is that they do not need to balance the budget to meet the emergency. This issue is a pretext for imposing inequality.
Democrats agreed to pass the total funding budget this same Dec. 20 weekend to keep the federal government running. This included funding the Pentagon budget for nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars. If Congress really needed to balance the budget, the Pentagon’s a good place to drastically cut costs.
Nor did the Democrats insist on restoring taxes on those with the highest incomes, the taxes that the Trump administration cut.
In Workers World’s editorial about the relief bills last August, we wrote “Regarding this week’s negotiations, there is a risk the Democrats will agree to a bad compromise for the U.S. working class. That may avoid complete disaster and chaos, but still throw more millions into poverty, hunger and houselessness.”
Five months later, the lessons of the bad compromise is that both ruling parties represent the interests of the U.S. ruling class. This is obvious with the Republicans, it has to be underlined regarding the Democrats. It will take a struggle outside and independent of these two parties to make any durable gains for working people.