There are two ways the COVID-19 story ends for the United States.
The nation can embrace scientific and medical facts as the way back home, make business secondary to life and health, and use our vast financial resources to support the populace even as we roll out a comprehensive testing program to speed a return to whatever passes for normal in this thundercloud of a country.
Or we can burn on the pyre of heedlessly rapacious capitalism. It really, truly is just that simple. As it stands, and with our current “leadership,” we are bound for that pyre at flank speed. An enormous majority supports the stay-at-home strictures, and huge swaths of people are sticking to them even in states that are recklessly throwing their doors open to the virus.
Fact: Donald Trump gets tested for COVID-19 multiple times a day, according to reports. The people closest to him also get tested, and if any of them show positive for infection, as several recently did, they are shuffled off to quarantine. Trump knows comprehensive testing works. He simply does not care to share the benefits with the rest of us.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) unveiled the beginnings of an answer to this crisis. The $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, would be the largest relief package ever passed in the U.S. if it actually sees the light of day. It is incomplete in a number of vital areas, but it is a stupendous improvement over Trump’s whistle-past-the-overflowing-graveyard plan of pretending none of this is actually happening.
The bill, which is more than 1,800 pages long, would provide $1 trillion for state, local, territorial and tribal governments to support health workers, first responders and teachers who are in danger of losing their jobs. Another $75 billion would provide free COVID testing, tracing and isolation measures, and would ensure all Americans have access to free treatment if infected.
The bill sets $200 billion aside to provide hazard pay for essential workers who have risked their lives in the maw of the pandemic. It extends unemployment benefits to the new year, provides housing assistance for renters and homeowners, and includes a 15 percent increase in food and nutrition programs to combat rising hunger.
The bill also includes safeguards for the upcoming election, assistance to the Census process to ensure an accurate count, and preserves the standing of the United States Postal Service. Overall, the bill seeks to assist the millions of people who received no measurable benefit from the last relief package.
The centerpiece of the bill is another $1,200 direct payment to individuals — up to $6,000 per household. As with the previous relief package, this would also be a one-time payment, and that has led to some appropriately vigorous argument from the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts) co-signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi urging the HEROES Act be modified to make such payments a recurring monthly phenomenon. There was talk of doing just that in the early stages of the bill’s drafting — Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), Kamala Harris (D-California) and Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) proposed legislation guaranteeing a $2,000 monthly payment to citizens for the duration of the pandemic — but those ideas did not survive the final draft.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has also pushed back on the final version because it fails to include her Paycheck Guarantee Act, her plan to cover 100 percent of workers’ wages up to $90,000 a year.
Rising in defense of Jayapal’s bill, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California) told CNN, “When people say that Jayapal’s bill for a paycheck guarantee or recurring payments is ‘too costly,’ I’d like them to explain to me why they think in a low-inflation, low-interest-rate environment a crisis response of spending to prevent massive unemployment and a shrinking of the GDP is bad policy. I have yet to hear a coherent economic rationale.”
Of course, most congressional Republicans detest the HEROES Act.
GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said on Tuesday that he feels there is “no urgency” to pass another relief package, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) announced the bill was “dead on arrival” in the Senate.
No urgency. Dead on arrival. Grotesque language with more than 80,000 people dead and thousands more sure to follow, but par for the course with Donald Trump’s party of aristocratic brigands.
A vote on the HEROES Act in the House is scheduled for Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has telegraphed his intent to leave the bill in his inbox until the sun burns out. In the meantime, the dying will continue, fear and uncertainty will spread, and capitalism will go on cutting off its nose to spite its face.
The HEROES Act is far from perfect in many regards, and should only be considered as a step in the right direction. It is a piece of what has to happen if the nation is to come out the other side of this in some semblance of good order. The alternative to taking these and other necessary steps is too grim to contemplate, yet could become all too real all too soon.
If we can pay for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program ($1.5 trillion), the 12 ballistic missile submarines intended to replace the aging Ohio-class fleet ($347 billion) and the B2 bomber squadron ($40 billion) — just three of the hundreds of Pentagon programs designed to take life — surely we can pay to save our own lives.
“Yeah, but capitalism” is not a valid excuse. It is a suicide pact most people want no part of.