No surprise that Trump would ambush the much-needed covid-19 relief bill — and make it worse
"CONSTRUCTIVE BIPARTISAN solutions are not exactly President Trump’s forte, so it should come as no surprise that he would veto a bipartisan defense bill and denounce the much-needed coronavirus relief package that his own administration helped to shape. Congress fortunately has time to override his veto on the essential defense bill, but Mr. Trump could — who knows if he will — pocket-veto the relief package in a way that would make an override impossible before this Congress expires. It is therefore important to understand why his objections, delivered in a surprise Tuesday night Twitter video, are misleading and demagogic even by his usual standards.
Mr. Trump calls the bill a “disgrace.” His main objection is that it provides only $600 direct relief payments, or $1,200 to couples, which he described as “ridiculously low” compared with his preferred figures, $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples. No matter that the $600 figure was his treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin’s suggestion. What’s really inappropriate, if not ridiculous, about the bill is how poorly it focuses this relief. Eligibility only phases out for individuals earning $75,000 or more, and households earning $150,000 or more;both figures are roughly twice the national median. A better plan would have been to limit direct payments to those earning the median or below, who have suffered the most economically, while shifting more resources into unemployment benefits. Mr. Trump’s proposal would instead compound this moderately regressive aspect of the measure.
Characteristically, Mr. Trump played the “America First” card, decrying what he said was aid to Central America, Cambodia, Myanmar and Egypt that has “nothing to do with” covid-19. Actually, these amounts were not in the $900 billion covid-relief bill but in the $1.4 trillion government funding bill to which it was attached, and without which the government would have had to shut down. In the same vein, he scapegoated undocumented immigrants on the direct payment issue, complaining that “family members of illegal aliens” would be eligible for direct payments, including some that would be “far more than the Americans are given.”
The family members in question actually include U.S. citizens — Americans — and green-card holders who may be married to an undocumented immigrant, and their dependents. The only reason such “mixed-status” recipients might get more than $600 is that Congress also decided to make them retroactively eligible for the $1,200 payments included in the Cares Act in March. All of this had bipartisan support: “No American should have been blocked from receiving federal assistance during a global pandemic because of who they married,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said.
As Congress worked toward a bipartisan deal, progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) made the task more difficult by urging an approach to direct payments similar to the one Mr. Trump has just declared. Under the circumstances, though, we can hardly blame Democratic leaders for placating their left wing, and trolling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), by saying they’d be happy to pass the president’s proposal as long as no one in the GOP objects. Mr. Trump gave them that opening, so Capitol Hill Republicans have only him to blame for any political angst they feel. More to the point, if Mr. Trump does somehow scuttle this legislation — and the money for vaccines, education and small businesses it contains — he’ll deserve blame from the entire country."