Former Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s proposal for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) for every American over 18 was resoundingly ridiculed and labeled socialism by almost everyone but his supporters. Despite Yang’s progressive platform, his boundless energy and charisma, the math whiz could not ignore the polling numbers and he finally suspended his campaign for President in early February, repurposing himself as a CNN analyst.
His proposal, however, to give everyone $1000 a month stuck in the minds of many and when the coronavirus struck the US, forcing millions to shelter at home, losing jobs and income, the UBI resurfaced as a talking point and became a key part of economic discussions to counter the devastation.
Suddenly, ideas that would have been considered socialist only weeks ago were being shamelessly bantered about by politicians and pundits as a fix for the looming financial crisis. Proposals to give money to citizens were being given a credence in circles that only a month previous would have been unheard of.
The very term socialism in the US is derided and poorly understood by many who seem to think that getting a return on their tax dollars is un-American, while many other democratic countries throughout the world employ socialist policies, including national health care.
The GOP began to embrace the idea of a stimulus package when they apparently realized that it would amount to a method for them to hand out billions to corporations, legally buy votes with taxpayer money (Trump wants his signature on the checks) and help them win the election in November; all that needed to be done was work out the details.
As the old saw goes, “the devil is in the details,” and it has rarely been more apt. A stimulus bill was consequently floated in the Senate. According to Senator Bernie Sanders, when the bill was first introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell it intended to give citizens a $1,000 one-time payout but he stated that “poor people should get less.”
The initial bill would have handed out $500 billion to corporations. The proposal was basically to create a slush fund, designating Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin to oversee the distribution of the bailout money with the recipients to remain secret for six months. When asked about oversight, Trump said he would take care of that himself.
The unexpected absence of five Republican senators due to coronavirus helped lead to that version of the stimulus bill’s rejection on Monday, and it was sent back to the senatorial chopper for more deliberation while Senator McConnell sputtered and fumed on the Senate floor. His attempt to rush the bill through the Senate before the public knew about it had been frustrated.
With the scent of a big payday coming up, negotiations were frantically made by a wide variety of political, corporate and economic actors and the layers of pork (appropriation of government spending) started to add up from both parties, while some Republicans made it a particular point to block financial aid for poor people. Senator Lindsay Graham argued against extending unemployment benefits because they would, he claimed, “incentivize” people to lay themselves off, citing our urgent need for medical workers.
While the stock market fluctuated wildly over every tidbit of news about the negotiations, hard-nosed back-room deals were made until a historic $2.2 trillion relief package was finally passed unanimously 96-0 in the Senate, sending the bill to the House. McConnell then called an immediate recess until April 26, undermining any attempts by the Democrat-led Congress to make any further changes because of the intense pressure to pass the bill immediately.
The Democrats were able to add some important revisions to the $500 billion corporate bailout, notably restrictions that would prohibit President Trump or any of his family members from profiting from the bailout, more unemployment benefits, a one-time $1200 payout for most citizens (subject to qualifiers), money for schools, hospitals, small business loans, $45 billion for FEMA, and funding for a huge assortment of other programs, all of which added up to the unprecedented figure of $2.2 trillion.
The Bill was passed in Congress and quickly signed into law by President Trump March 27, enabling these policies to take effect immediately, although Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was less than transparent about when the relief checks will be sent out and on details of how the $500 billion will be distributed to corporations. The opportunities for corruption are boundless.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has formed a bipartisan committee in the House to oversee the distribution of the money. “In the wake of the financial crisis 10 years ago, there are going to be a lot of suspicions,” Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said in an interview with Politico, “can we trust the Fed and the Treasury? We need, in Congress, to give them that reassurance.”
President Trump, whose hotel chain has been shuttered and is losing millions, is chafing at the restraint, complaining, “ It’s a witch hunt after witch hunt after witch hunt.” Mnuchin claims it is not necessary to conduct oversight over the corporate bailout.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortrez( D-NY), asked if the $1,200 was a one-time payment, said, “The answer is yes. And it’s not enough … The Trump Administration and Mitch McConnell’s Senate, the Republicans, refused — absolutely refused — to entertain the idea of recurring payments.”
Not only is it not enough, but some people over 18 will not be eligible, since the payout will be based on 2018 tax returns. Many of the people who need the money the most will not receive it, nor is it clear when the money will be available to those that are eligible.
Andrew Yang’s original proposal for a UBI was to give everyone over 18 years old $1,000 a month. Instead, the stimulus package will distribute a $1,200 one-time payout to eligible people.
Yang wrote on Twitter on March 27, “Glad that Congress has passed the stimulus package as people need it. I wish it went further and put more money directly into people’s hands. Congress will likely need to pass an additional bill soon as this crisis continues and doors remain closed.”
Although the stimulus package is in all but name naked socialism, the hypocrisy in the GOP runs much too deep for them to acknowledge their double-standard, especially not while there’s government money being handed out.
A. Heimer can be reached at [email protected]