Is this Relief Bill Sunday?

The Senate was burning the midnight oil last night and we are allegedly near the finish line for a second relief bill. The final logjam in the process was reportedly based on some Republicans’ refusal to allow the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department to set up a new round of loan programs for corporations and municipal governments similar to the ones that were put in place with the original relief bill. The “breakthrough” (if you want to call it that) came when Senators Pat Toomey and Chuck Schumer reached a compromise on that question. Assuming the wheels don’t come off of any other parts of the package this morning, Schumer sounded optimistic about voting on the deal today. How good of an idea this may turn out to be remains an open question. (NY Post)

Congress is on the brink of an agreement on a long-awaited $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, thanks to a last-minute compromise over a key loan provision that has been struck by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

The bipartisan compromise means a final deal was now “very close,” Schumer said as he emerged from negotiations close to midnight, Fox News reported.

“If things continue on this path and nothing gets in the way, we’ll be able to vote tomorrow,” he said, meaning Sunday.

The stumbling block lifted as negotiations stretched into Saturday night, when Toomey and Schumer struck an agreement on whether the Federal Reserve could restart emergency lending programs to help corporate, municipal and medium-size businesses.

I’m not sure how this works out to be a “compromise” in any meaningful sense of the word. Toomey had been adamant that no new loan programs were going to be approved. The Democrats wanted another round of loan programs. In the end, what they agreed on was a new round of loan programs provided they weren’t “identical or nearly identical” to the original package from the spring. In other words, a few cosmetic changes from the original bill will allow the new loan programs to pass muster.

It’s a rare day indeed when I find myself agreeing with Paul Krugman, but his description on Twitter this morning seemed pretty accurate to me.

The package will allegedly include a $600 direct payment to all taxpayers, so that’s one compromise that the Democrats had to agree on to get things moving. (They had wanted a larger payment.) While half of a loaf is generally better than none, people may not be doing backflips over that sort of help. For someone with zero dollars in their pockets, six hundred bucks will still be a welcome shot in the arm. But for most Americans, the reality is that $600 is not a lot of money. If you live in a suburban or rural area, it might cover your rent or mortgage for one month. In New York City you can’t rent a dumpster for that much.

But if you’ve been without a paycheck for most of the summer and fall, even if you have some level of unemployment benefits coming in, you’re probably pretty far behind at this point. Six hundred dollars isn’t going to get people in a situation like that out of the hole.

I suppose I’m going to wind up sounding like the Scrooge here, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Congress is about to once again take just short of a trillion imaginary dollars and essentially set it on fire. And that’s on top of the normal operating expenses of the government that still have to be paid. I suppose once the national debt crossed the $20T mark, some people just stopped paying attention, figuring that a trillion here and a trillion there really doesn’t add up to all the much, right? But what we’re really doing is binding more chunks of lead to the anchor that we’re preparing to hang around the neck of the next generation.

Yes, it’s the government’s responsibility to help people, particularly in a time of crisis, and this bill will make some progress in that direction. But what really helps people more than anything else (and helps our nation’s economy as well) is getting back to work. The vaccines are currently rolling out. Despite the surges in coronavirus cases we’re seeing in Texas and California (along with a few other states), the finish line should really be in sight. If you want to “aid” the country, we need to open back up and get back to business.