The U.S. Senate deadlocked over the third coronavirus pandemic-response bill. The first two dealt primarily with free coronavirus testing, sick leave and unemployment compensation. The third – the CARES Act – is a $2 trillion bill that seeks to address the pandemic’s economic consequences. The disagreement swirled around five points of contention:
• Who controls loans to small and large businesses?
• Who receives direct payments?
• How much is provided for food, health coverage and state fiscal stability?
• Who is protected from foreclosure and eviction?
• How do we address the inability of the young to repay education loans?
Positions taken on these points expose the fundamental difference between the constituencies of Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats.
The Republicans sought to control and disperse taxpayer money to businesses of their choice without criteria or accountability. Basic human needs of food, shelter and medical care were of little interest. Housing was addressed at the nexus of invested capital and mortgage payments. Student-debt payments and interest were suspended for only 60 days.
Democrats were interested in supporting small businesses to ensure a viable economy, job security for workers and income for employees. They wanted reasonable controls over loans to companies to ensure transparent, fair, nonpolitical allocation. They prioritized ensuring that basic human needs for food, housing and medical care be met for all Americans. Democratic senators insisted people with the fewest resources be remembered – those whose income is so little that they are not required to file an income-tax return. Recognizing that 20 percent of Americans rent – especially the young and the poor – they fought for assistance to renters. Finally, Democrats see education as a public investment in future productivity and society, not a profit center to be exploited and used to indenture young people to the wealthiest 2 percent.
The conflict over the CARES Act is about what America cares about: capital or people. Like shadows on a cave wall, the outline cast does not necessarily faithfully represent the reality of the object illuminated.