As COVID-19 continues to sweep through the U.S., President Donald Trump’s once strong economy has been shattered by the virus. House Democrats can use that to their advantage.
Prior to the past few months, Trump’s reelection strategy was simple — tout the humming economy, low unemployment numbers and soaring stock market. Now in the early stages of a recession, the economy that was supposed to deliver Trump a second term is in shambles.
The economic downturn leaves Trump in desperate need of legislation that can guard against the worst effects of a possible depression. And since he already botched the federal response to COVID-19, shoring up the economy is key to his reelection.
Trump’s dependence on a potent economic response gives the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives decisive leverage to dictate the terms of relief bills. But so far, they have been unwilling to use it.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law by President Trump on March 27, provided woefully inadequate relief for the millions of Americans who lost their jobs. Many of the $1,200 checks took weeks to arrive to needy recipients, while some are still in transit.
Worse, the conditions for eligibility excluded some of the most vulnerable groups, and though the bill included expanded unemployment insurance, the overwhelming number of applicants has left a national backlog in the millions.
None of the three relief bills passed so far have included any form of expanded health care provisions. Because of the U.S.’ draconian practice of tying employment to health insurance, the millions who have lost their jobs are now without the ability to see a doctor as well.
A report from Politico indicates Democrats are mulling a provision that would subsidize COBRA health insurance, a temporary and expensive private plan, for laid off Americans. The effort is being supported by health care groups that, as a result of mass layoffs, are simultaneously seeking to recoup lost profits and stave off any expansion of Medicare.
If Democrats use their leverage to force COBRA subsidization through in the next round of negotiations, it would be a transparent bailout of the rapacious health insurance industry and a clear indication the party is more interested in saving profits than lives.
Instead of capitulating to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s demands, or using their political capital to help bloated corporations, House Democrats must be aggressive. McConnell and the GOP have been playing hardball since Obama was elected, and it’s time the Democrats do the same.
In the next relief bill, Democrats should demand much larger direct cash transfers to U.S. residents. This is an especially important provision considering that workers who lose their jobs in states that are reopening may not be eligible for the expanded unemployment insurance included in the CARES Act.
In addition to cash transfers, Democrats must hold firm on distributing funds to states and local governments. In the bill passed on April 23, Democrats dropped the demand after pushback from McConnell. If such a provision is not muscled through, the loss of income and sales tax revenue across the country will force localities to lay off public employees like teachers, firefighters and librarians, and threaten the solvency of countless cities, counties and states.
Medicare benefits should be extended to laid-off Americans, instead of the expensive and industry-focused COBRA subsidization plan. And, crucially, more money should be spent on creating a functional national test and trace program, an essential part of any plan to reopen the country.
Lastly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should reconvene the House of Representatives. The move was planned for May 4, but opposition from Republicans and even some Democrats caused Pelosi to abandon it.
Reconvening the House would allow Democrats to enforce stringent oversight on the Trump administration. As is, the Democrats’ accusations that the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 has been incompetent and corrupt ring hollow.
Gifted with leverage they have not had since retaking the House in 2018, Democrats have failed to go on the offensive thus far. Their limited and weak actions have left millions of U.S. residents underpaid, uninsured and vulnerable to the effects of a recession.