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Trump administration ratchets up advisory: Avoid international travel

Issuing one of its toughest restrictions yet to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Trump administration warned Americans on Thursday to avoid all international travel and advised U.S. citizens currently overseas to come home or prepare to remain where they are indefinitely.

The move came as Senate Republicans and Democrats outlined competing ideas for an expected $1-trillion stimulus package to limit the financial fallout from the widening pandemic.

Conversations were underway behind closed doors, but it remained unclear when an agreement would be reached, even as the economic damage spreads and the stock market teeters. If ultimately approved and signed by President Trump, the package would be the third emergency measure since the crisis began.

Trump had already partially closed the U.S. borders with Canada and is prepared to do so with Mexico as soon as Friday. He has also restricted entry of non-U.S. citizens flying from Europe. But the advisory issued Thursday by the State Department, believed to be the widest of its kind, could trigger the greatest disruption yet on travel by Americans.

“The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19,” the agency said, issuing its highest level of warning, known as Level 4, a category usually reserved for extremely dangerous locations such as Syria or Iran.

It is not an outright prohibition and does not mention exemptions for business or essential travel. However, it presumably would absolve the State Department of some responsibility in bringing home stranded Americans who ignore the warning.

“In countries where commercial departure options remain available, U.S. citizens who live in the United States should arrange for immediate return to the United States, unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period,” the State Department said. “U.S. citizens who live abroad should avoid all international travel.”

There are hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad at any one time.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called on the State Department to set up charter flights to transport Americans home to the United States. His and other congressional offices have been flooded with complaints from traveling U.S. citizens who say they cannot find transportation home and that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad are not helping them.

The State Department says it has been doing what it can for U.S. citizens abroad but notes many of its own services have had to shut down because of the pandemic. Its advisory says U.S. citizens overseas should “consider” returning to their country of residence immediately “using whatever commercial means are available.” It adds, “Have a travel plan that does not rely on the U.S. government for assistance.”

Those options are fast dwindling. Even before the new restrictions, the U.S. airline industry had eliminated or dramatically reduced the frequency of most international flights. Earlier this week, United Airlines announced plans to cut domestic routes by 42% and slash international routes by 85%, leaving only 45 daily flights from the U.S. to foreign destinations in the month of April. Delta Air Lines similarly announced plans to cut international service by 80% and park 600 planes.

American Airlines President Robert Isom said in a letter to employees Thursday that the airline had reduced international flying by 75% and cut its domestic schedule by 30% in April — a grounding of more than 55,000 flights — with plans to reduce it even further in May.

All of the actions come as the White House scrambles to make up for lost time and ramp up U.S. defenses against a fast-spreading virus that has infected more than 10,600 people in the United States, and killed at least 150.

In the legislative arena, Republicans have been working closely with Trump administration officials on a plan for federally backed loans for small businesses that continue paying their workers, and for direct payments to most taxpayers.

“Senate Republicans want to put cash in the hands of the American people,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He said the money should go out “as rapidly as possible” and would be available to “the middle class on down.”

McConnell unveiled new details of the Republican proposal, including payments of as much as $1,200 per person or $2,400 per couple. An additional $500 would be given per child. Payments would be lower for individuals making more than $75,000 or couples making more than$150,000.

However, McConnell is facing some resistance within the GOP caucus to the payments. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters they were concerned the checks would not be effective.

The package includes $208 billion in loans and loan guarantees to struggling industries, primarily airlines that have seen demand for flights plummet, as well as $300 billion in financial assistance for small businesses to help them keep paying workers.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin told Fox Business on Thursday morning that most Americans would receive $1,000 plus $500 for each child — $3,000 for a family of four.

“We’d get this out in three weeks,” he said. “And then, six weeks later, if the president still has a national emergency, we’d deliver another $3,000.”

McConnell differentiated between the current global health crisis and the risky credit practices that led to the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent bank bailout.

“None of these firms — not corner stores, not pizza parlors, not airlines — brought this on themselves,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was concerned that too much money would end up in corner offices rather than workers’ pockets. He also said direct payments to Americans would likely not be enough to insulate households from the effects of the economic slowdown.

“That may help families cover rent, groceries for a month. But then what?” he said.

Schumer said the country needs “unemployment insurance on steroids,” and suggested boosting payments for those who apply for the program when they lose their jobs.

Democrats are also pushing a massive investment in public health infrastructure, a proposal that Schumer compared to the rebuilding of Europe after World War II.

“We need a Marshall Plan for our healthcare system,” he said.

The first emergency measure from Congress included $8.3 billion, with most of the money going to federal health officials for vaccine research and to state and local governments for their response efforts.

The second was signed by Trump on Wednesday. It makes most coronavirus testing free, expands paid sick leave to more American workers and boosts funding for unemployment benefits and food programs.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) said in an interview with The Times that she’s worried one or two payments from the government won’t be enough. “We’ve got to make sure we’re taking care of these families, and frankly rescuing them from what is a disaster on top of a pandemic,” she said.

In addition to direct financial assistance, Harris said Congress should pause credit reporting rules so missed payments don’t wreck consumers’ credit scores and make it harder for them to climb out of the current crisis. “We can’t continue with business as usual during this pandemic,” she said.

Times staff writer Hugo Martin in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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What Trump’s Trillion-Dollar Bailout Gets Right, and Wrong

It makes sense to reassure the markets that money market funds will be safe, although it does raise the question of whether the funds should pay the government for insurance if they’re going to get backstopped whenever times get tough. It also feels a bit like a backdoor bank bailout, since one effect will be to reassure skittish companies that have been drawing down lines of credit from banks that they can rely on corporate paper instead.

But the most pressing question it raises is: Are these funds in more trouble than we realize? The last time Treasury did this was at the height of the worst panic since the Depression. Slipping this financial provision into an economic stimulus bill may be a far-sighted move to give Treasury the tools it would need to deal with a potential banking panic, but it could also send a message that Treasury is worried about a banking panic, and those kinds of messages can panic bankers.

Pardon the Interruption

The final piece of the Trump proposal is a $300 billion loan guarantee program to help small businesses keep their entire workforce on their payroll for eight weeks. This idea seems both unimaginably large—it’s seven times the annual budget for the State Department—and absurdly small, since there are 28 million small businesses in America, and it’s hard to see how restaurants or gyms or stores that don’t have customers are going to be able to pay back the loans after they pay their workers not to work for eight weeks. It feels like a program that could work if the business interruptions are very short, in which case it might not even get started in time to help, but it feels likely to get swamped by demand if the pandemic keeps the country on lockdown for long. The goal is to reduce disruption to people’s lives and careers—everyone prefers a paycheck to a government check—but this will be an extraordinarily disruptive crisis, and again, airlifting money to businesses is not always the most efficient way to help their employees, especially if the businesses end up failing anyway.

The Missing Links

The Obama stimulus included nearly $100 billion targeted directly at the most vulnerable victims of the Great Recession, particularly the poor and the unemployed. That aid turned out to be extremely effective not only in reducing poverty and easing pain but in reviving the economy; this Dartmouth study estimated that every dollar spent on the poor created from $1.96 to $2.31 in economic activity. The Trump proposal makes no effort to target the poor, although the bipartisan emergency response bill does include a modest boost in unemployment benefits and food aid.

Similarly, Obama’s stimulus sent about $250 billion directly to cash-strapped state and local governments, many run by Obama’s political enemies, so they wouldn’t have to slash services, raise taxes or lay off workers; studies found that aid to states also helped the U.S. avoid a second Great Depression, helping governors and mayors avoid “anti-stimulus” at the worst possible time. The Trump proposal did not include state aid, either, although Democrats did get a boost in the federal share of Medicaid payments in that bipartisan emergency bill.

In general, the Trump approach favors aid to businesses over aid to governments or the needy. And at least for now, it opts for just a few massive programs rather than a litany of small programs, an approach that will be sorely tested on Capitol Hill.

Congress larded up the Obama stimulus with all kinds of quirky add-ons, from fire stations to military hospitals to cemetery maintenance to emergency farm loans; Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye inserted $198 million for Filipino veterans who had been denied benefits they were promised after fighting alongside Americans in World War II, an honorable but not particularly stimulative provision. The Trump approach has different vulnerabilities—strip clubs and porn studios may apply for business interruption loans, too—but its omissions could make it easier to pass and potentially easier to defend.

The trillion-dollar question is what Democrats will demand as their price for bailing out the sinking Trump economy. Pelosi has already warned that she wants to target the spending to the families that need it most. Democratic Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota have proposed to make vote-by-mail available to every American, a provision that could ease fears that coronavirus could disrupt the 2020 election, while Patty Murray of Washington and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have said they won’t accept a stimulus without a dramatic expansion of paid sick leave for workers. The Obama stimulus included a powerful independent oversight board that scrutinized every dime, and perhaps as a result, it produced remarkably low levels of fraud and abuse; Democrats would like to see the same kind of oversight for Trump.

It’s also tempting to look beyond the current crisis. Democratic economists have floated the possibility of including permanent “countercyclical stabilizers,” which would automatically provide stimulus for a faltering economy even if a Democrat were in the White House and Republicans rediscovered their allergy to deficit spending. And after the Obama stimulus helped jump-start the clean-energy economy with massive investments in solar, wind and electric vehicle batteries, some Democrats are interested in using the Trump stimulus to advance long-term priorities like transit, green infrastructure, or at least virus-related public health initiatives.

Of course, time is of the essence, and the president is sure to demand immediate action on his proposals, while accusing House Democrats of leaving Americans to suffer if they don’t pass them right away. If they complain that the package doesn’t include funding for additional hospital beds, or for manufacturing ventilators, or for feeding the hungry, well, Trump and the Republicans seem perfectly willing to pass another stimulus bill after this one goes out the door. In Washington, a trillion dollars doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.

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McConnell introduces sweeping $1 trillion emergency aid proposal

Susan Walsh/AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just introduced a sweeping, $1 trillion emergency economic aid proposal in response to coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal would include direct payments to Americans under a certain income threshold, $200 billion in loans to airlines and distressed industry sectors, and $300 in forgivable bridge loans for small businesses. 

The proposal, a draft of which was obtained by CNN, underscores the scale of the economic crisis now facing individuals and businesses across the country amid the accelerating pandemic and addresses bolstering health care resources, student loans and aid, business tax provisions and temporary authority. 

The proposal, however, is just an opening bid as the Senate attempts to address the coronavirus outbreak. It was drafted by Senate Republicans and the Trump administration, with no input from Democrats.

At the heart of the proposal is hundreds of billions of dollars directed toward “recovery rebates” of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples beneath a certain income threshold.

The proposal also includes $300 billion to be used for loans to small businesses, however structured, as well as private nonprivate organizations.

The program would be structured so businesses could take out loans from banks and lenders that would be guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. Those loans must be used, according to the proposal, for to pay salaries, mortgage payments, other debt obligations and payroll support including paid sick, medical and family leave, as well as health care benefits.

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We Can Retool the Economy to Fight Coronavirus — With Labor Playing a Key Role

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the rot behind the facade of American society like no other event in modern history. The richest nation in history has demonstrated an utterly incompetent response to the crisis. Some aspects of the response, like the idiot nationalism behind refusing to use the high-quality World Health Organization test for the virus, are surface level. Others, like a health-care system built around protecting profits by denying care, are structural.

In this way, the pandemic is making Bernie Sanders’s case for a political revolution even more vivid. Already, almost half of US adults are already saying that the virus is making them more likely to support Medicare for All. Given that the United States is still at least a week behind the disaster stage of the outbreak, it is likely that this number will only grow.

The pandemic’s full impact, both medical and economic, will expose the need for a policy response on a scale unlike anything in recent history. Already, analogies are being drawn to the economic mobilization during World War II.

This politicization of the economy presents a critical opportunity for the Left. Most of the time, capitalist democracies are ruled by the illusion that the economy is apolitical, even natural. Moments of crisis demystify this and demonstrate that political choices determine questions of production and distribution.

Eighty years ago, the American left confronted a similar moment of crisis in the early years of World War II. In that moment, United Auto Workers leader Walter Reuther seized the initiative to present a plan for reorienting the economy toward wartime production that elevated labor to a central role.

Ultimately, that plan was defeated, and business prerogatives won out. But the plan’s strategic audacity in positioning labor as the force to set the course for a national emergency is precisely the kind of ambition the Left should have in responding to the pandemic today.

By 1941, it was clear that American involvement in World War II would be massive. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had campaigned in the 1940 election on the United States being the “arsenal of democracy” by providing arms and machinery to the UK in its war against Nazi Germany.

The economy, however, was not set up to provide this level of production. Though unemployment had been falling since 1938, in 1940, it was still about 15 percent of the labor force. Most firms were still running far below full capacity.

Moreover, many firms actively resisted the attempt to ramp up wartime production. Though $11 billion in federal contracts were awarded in the second half of 1940, these financial incentives were not enough to convince capitalists that a more interventionist state was worth tolerating. Arch-isolationist Henry Ford even rejected a massive airplane engine contract from the government.

For most capitalists, the key issue with retooling for defense production was that it threatened to cut into their ability to take advantage of the growing economic recovery. American consumption had been bottled up for a decade by the Depression, and now that recovery was finally here, there was no doubt that Americans would be making their long-delayed purchases of new cars, ovens, and other consumer durables. No firm wanted to lose market share to a competitor because it had reorganized for defense contracts that probably wouldn’t last more than four or five years.

Firms thus attempted to meet defense orders by building new capacity, keeping their existing manufacturing capability idle but ready to respond to new consumer markets. If building warplanes to send to the UK required building new factories, it would take well over a year before production targets could be met.

Walter Reuther saw an opportunity for the labor movement in this moment. A brilliant union organizer who had done everything from battling strike breakers in the streets of Flint, Michigan, to working in a factory in the USSR, Reuther had become a leading figure in the United Auto Workers (UAW) over the past few years. With capitalists responding only sluggishly to the need for wartime production, Reuther boldly laid out a plan to turn idle manufacturing capacity into an assembly line of defense production.

He called his plan “500 Planes a Day.” At its heart was the creation of a tripartite board administering airplane production on which the government, employers, and unions would have equal representation. This board would be responsible for assessing productive capacity, planning airplane construction targets, and allocating production of parts among plants without regard to ownership.

This last point was crucial, and a key infringement on capitalist rights. Essentially, the plan was to treat all of Detroit as one big firm, with a Ford plant manufacturing engines that would then be installed in a General Motors plant on fuselages made by Chrysler. Productive capacity would, in this way, be maximized by assigning part production and assembly to the plants most suited to it, regardless of who owned the plant.

Reuther’s plan would have advanced labor’s interest in multiple ways. First, it would have avoided the problems of seasonal work that plagued even skilled works in the auto industry by ensuring that any excess capacity would quickly be taken up elsewhere. Second, it would have prevented the massive expansion of production in airplane manufacturing from taking place in states with lower unionization, and redirected it into labor’s heartland. Most important, in its corporatist structure that placed labor on the planning board, it would give unions a voice in allocating investment. At a time when defense investment was becoming an ever larger share of the economy, a role in planning would give labor hitherto unimagined power in determining the direction of the American economy.

Reuther’s audacity won him plaudits from unlikely sources, as even conservative newspapers and Republican politicians admired the plan’s scope and seriousness. However, manufacturing executives viewed it as an unacceptable intrusion on the privileges of management. They launched a counterattack quibbling with the plan’s technical details, while their allies in the state, like J. Edgar Hoover, smeared Reuther as a Russian agent. At the same time, however, the plan plainly placed them on the defensive, and they were unable to effectively criticize its basic strategy of central planning.

Reuther’s plan was ultimately defeated not by industry resistance, however, but by the sheer force of events. After Pearl Harbor, the government simply suspended civilian auto production, solving the gridlock problem without requiring the kinds of far-reaching institutional changes for which Reuther had fought. The auto industry was converted to defense production, but firms themselves retained control over decisions like subcontracting, part design, and investment.

Reuther’s plan failed because the labor movement wasn’t strong enough to force it on capital. Unlike European countries, where the labor movements had been strong enough to establish their own parties, in the United States, the movement remained very much the junior partner in a coalition with multinational capital inside the Democratic Party. Roosevelt himself, a product of the American aristocracy, had little enthusiasm for expanding the power of labor over the economy if it wasn’t an absolute necessity. A plan without power wasn’t enough.

Despite the failure of Reuther’s plan, it offers a model for leftists today trying to put forward a response to the coronavirus pandemic. Reuther’s plan may not have been enacted, but it did advance labor’s agenda and offer a vision of the economy in which expanded power for labor was the means by which economic goals could be attained. Labor wasn’t strong enough to win the plan, but the plan’s technical sophistication and political audacity got the movement closer to its goals than anyone would have guessed possible.

Today, of course, the labor movement is in a much weaker position than in 1940. Union density is lower, the legal environment more hostile, and the ranks of shop-floor organizers considerably weaker. If in 1941 the labor movement wasn’t able to force the state to institutionalize its power, today, we are even less able to do so.

In other respects, however, we are in a better situation. For one thing, mobilizing for the production of medical equipment and other human necessities is an inherently better task for the Left than mobilizing for the production of instruments of destruction that will be put in the hands of an war-hungry, imperialist state.

Moreover, as a result of Bernie Sanders’s presidential runs, there is a significant portion of the Democratic Party’s electorate that is now happy to embrace socialism. This is an ideological foundation for advancing our strategic vision that even Reuther didn’t have.

Because of this, the Left should aim to put forward a plan for dealing with the coronavirus that is every bit as ambitious as Reuther’s plan to reorient the economy toward defense production. Some of the problems we face today are strikingly similar.

For example, there is a shortage in ventilator beds, which are the main treatment for people with severe cases of coronavirus. At the current rate of spread, the need for ventilator beds will likely exceed the United States’ supply by tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of cases.

Meanwhile, the firms that produce these machines produce only ten thousand or so a year. Moreover, technicians, nurses, and doctors need to be trained to operate the ventilators and care for patients using them.

This is not a situation that the free market can fix. Unfortunately, while Reuther could draw on the knowledge of skilled union workers in auto plants in estimating capacity and designing plans to expand it, the hollowing out of the American labor movement has left us in a weaker position. But this is a challenge the Left will have to meet if it is to present a plan for dealing with the virus that can win wide support.

Other aspects of the crisis today are strikingly different. Currently, millions of Americans are self-isolating in their homes and apartments. Over the next month at least, the question of how basic necessities like food, soap, and toilet paper can be distributed to people without creating more disease vectors will impose itself with brutal force. Amazon is already hiring a hundred thousand new workers to keep up with anticipated demand, and it is likely that, if things are left to their own course, the logistics juggernaut will emerge from this crisis even stronger than before.

But the question of distribution is one to which the Left can present some answers. UPS and the US Postal Service are already union shops, with close to a million logistics workers between them doing the daily work of distribution. Their knowledge of routes, bottlenecks, and potential solutions should be a crucial part of planning for how to address human needs in the midst of the pandemic.

Ventilator production and basic needs distribution are just two of the many crises that the pandemic will undoubtedly lay bare over the coming months. As with Reuther’s plan, there is no guarantee that any of these crises will be solved on terms favorable to the vast majority of people. But if the Left is to rise to the challenge of this moment, it needs to be able to present a plan that makes clear that the interests of the larger society can best be served by advancing the interests of labor. Reuther’s plan for five hundred planes a day is a model for the kind of thinking we need.

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Trump’s $1T plan to stabilize economy hit by virus

By ANDREW TAYLOR and LISA MASCARO

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is proposing direct payments of $1,200 per person and $2,400 for couples amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by The Associated Press.

The GOP leader was poised to unveil the sweeping response Thursday as Congress raced to draft a $1 trillion measure to shore up for households and the U.S. economy.

Among key elements would be the direct payments to Americans, aligned with the Trump administration’s push for quick cash aid.

Under McConnell’s proposal, the minimum payments would be $600, and aid would be phased down at income thresholds of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple. Additionally, there would be $500 payments for each child.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was poised Thursday to unveil a sweeping coronavirus response plan as Congress worked urgently to fashion a $1 trillion measure to prop up households and the U.S. economy amid the outbreak.

Keeping paychecks flowing for idled workers as jobless claims skyrocket is a top priority for both the Republican and Democratic plans emerging from Congress.

But GOP senators panned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s plan for direct checks to Americans of $3,000 for a family of four — preferring instead to use the federal dollars to keep workers who are asked to stay home on the business payrolls.

“What I want is income, not one check,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., summing up the views of some exiting a long, private meeting of GOP senators on Capitol Hill. One or two checks “makes no sense to me,” he said.

“It’s not a check. It’s checks. It’s not a payment, it’s income,” Graham said. “The best thing for us to do is create an income stream.”

The fast-track effort in an all-but-shuttered Capitol came as the first two lawmakers tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, others are self-isolating and the usually tradition-bound Congress faced calls to ease rules and allow remote voting.

“The American people need help and they need it fast,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as he opened the Senate.

The GOP leader is expected to roll out the Republican plan later Thursday, senators said.

Vast government spending of untold sums is causing unease among GOP senators whose careers have been built on halting the flow of federal dollars and trying to halt rising debts.

But other Republicans said they had no choice but to provide a lifeline to Americans and small businesses.

“The government is causing this economic crisis by shutting down the country and so we’re going to have to pay what it costs,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Health Committee.

It’s unclear if Mnuchin’s idea will be scratched from the Senate GOP approach.

The Treasury secretary said Thursday the checks would be direct-deposited into people’s accounts under the plan the Trump administration has proposed to Congress.

The payments would be $1,000 per adult and $500 per child so that a family of two parents and two children would receive $3,000, Mnuchin told Fox Business Network. The goal is to get that money out in three weeks, he said.

“That’s a lot of money for hard-working Americans,” Mnuchin said.

Republicans want to have small businesses send paychecks to workers being forced to stay home —though government loans that would not have to be repaid — to prevent employees being cast aside. They also want to shore up airlines and other industries, but those loans would have to be paid back.

Democrats compiling their own priorities in the House and Senate suggest other ways to keep paychecks flowing in what Schumer called “employment insurance” — which he characterized as “unemployment insurance on steroids.”

At the same time, caring for the expected surge of sick Americans is a priority. Congress wants to ramp up production of medical supplies and rapidly erect temporary field hospitals under new authorities President Donald Trump invoked in the Defense Production Act.

“America needs a Marshall Plan for our health care system,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, citing the post-World War II program in which the U.S. financed rebuilding in Europe.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Trump to quickly use his new wartime authority to push manufacturers to start producing the medical supplies.

“There is not a day to lose,” Pelosi said in a statement. “We must put more testing, more protective equipment and more ventilators into the hands of our frontline workers immediately.”

The centerpiece of the White House effort is $500 billion to start issuing direct payments to Americans, starting early next month.

How to spend that money, though, remains a key question.

The Treasury Department proposed two $250 billion cash infusions to individuals: a first set of checks issued starting April 6, with a second wave by mid-May. Officials have previously said the money is expected to be allocated by income level, to exclude the super-wealthy.

Direct payments would go to U.S. citizens only, and would be “tiered based on income level and family size.” The two payments would be identical, with the second wave starting by May 18.

Meanwhile, industries of all kinds are lining up for help to avoid cratering the economy and devastating the home lives of their employees.

Groups representing hospitals, doctors and nurses are asking Congress for $100 billion to help the health care system respond to the challenge of COVID-19, which could involve providing treatment for tens of thousands of seriously ill people.

The total price tag is sure to grow beyond $1 trillion, lawmakers said.

Taken together, the administration plan promises half of the $1 trillion to families and individuals, with the other half used to prop up businesses and keep employees on payroll.

Trump has already signed into law a $100 billion-plus bill to boost testing for the coronavirus and guarantee paid sick leave for millions of workers hit by it. Earlier, Congress passed and Trump signed an initial $8.3 billion effort.

As Congress rushes to compile the sweeping economic rescue package, the biggest undertaking since the 2008 recession and financial crisis, in a matter of days, it also is considering its own way of doing business.

The Senate plans to remain in session until the emerging coronavirus bill passes, with weekend sessions possible. The House, which is on recess, won’t be recalled until it’s time to vote.

In the House, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah, released statements saying they had tested positive for COVID-19 — the first two known cases in Congress. Several other lawmakers have cycled in and out of self-isolation after exposure to individuals who had later tested positive for the virus.

On Thursday, McAdams told NBC’s “Today” show the House should consider changing its rules to allow remote voting.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he shares lawmakers’ concerns about the potential risks of congregating in groups and is considering ways to “adjust our voting procedures” to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations on social distancing.

Economists say the country is probably already in recession and the massive rescue package now being drafted would probably not be enough to stop millions of job losses.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Matthew Daly, and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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America Needs Stronger Political Parties

Party bosses used to stabilize primaries and keep hyperpartisanship at bay. No longer.

Democratic White House hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign rally at the Convention Center in Los Angeles, California on March 1, 2020. (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past few weeks, the Democratic establishment has launched a coordinated effort to coalesce around Joe Biden, giving him the momentum he badly needed to win Super Tuesdays I, II, and now III. It’s now all but guaranteed that he’ll be the nominee.

Unsurprisingly, Bernie Sanders and his supporters have expressed outrage at the Democratic establishment’s imposition on the electoral process. In the absence of such an intervention, they argue, the collective action problem would have made Sanders, the most polarizing figure among Democrats, the presumptive nominee. Certain Republicans, too, have gone to war with their party’s establishment for similar reasons in recent years.

Supporters of outsider politics hold that their political agendas could be realized were it not for a domineering and corrupt establishment. But our political landscape, counterintuitively, has actually seen a collapse of party influence over the past few decades. The institutional strength of a major political party may cause some people to recoil, but the fact is that thwarting the excesses of democracy has proved a necessary function in maintaining the stability and durability of our republic.

If parties functioned well, our divides wouldn’t be quite so deep.

Indeed, compromise and cooperation are essential if a party is going to work properly. Putting out a palatable platform that appeals to the distinct and diverse groups that make up our country requires cohesion and unity.

To achieve that, party elders and officials have historically played a central role in vetting candidates. During the 1800s and early 1900s, for instance, party officials chose delegates for the conventions. The delegates, in turn, voted for candidates that reflected the preferences of their party bosses. During the mid-20th century, primaries were conducted to gauge public opinion, but weren’t in any way binding.

Since the 1970s, however, both parties have relinquished their responsibility to choose candidates in favor of the popular vote and transparency. And while transparency is an ostensible good, this democratization of political parties has made agenda setting and coalition building nearly impossible. Primary voters, especially in caucuses, are generally the most enthusiastic and partisan people within the parties. That’s why candidates tend to race as far right or left as they can, only to return to the center for the general election.

These voters are likely to have different preferences than the party bosses, who have the broader goal of building nationwide coalitions.

Over the last four years, the most mobilized and enthusiastic campaigns have supported men who ran fervently against party insiders and the establishment: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. In a pre-1970s political era, the Republican Party would have had the political bandwidth to thwart Trump’s campaign. Today, the Republican establishment has become a tool of Trump’s and a platform on which he grows his political brand.

The GOP has conformed entirely to Trump’s agenda—an agenda that looked very different from the Republican platform before 2016. Understanding this isn’t necessarily an indictment of that agenda. Still, it’s striking just how thoroughly a major party has been turned upside down within the span of four years.

As political scientist Joseph Postell put it:

Party unity today appears to be based on agreement rather than loyalty. A party that engenders loyalty is able to overcome its internal differences by appealing to the broader principles that unite it. When today’s parties encounter differences that divide them internally, they fall apart.

This Trump and Bernie phenomena have incentivized other politicians to act like outsiders, too. Becoming associated with “the establishment” has become a sort of stand-in for corruption and inauthenticity. In the 2016 GOP primary, for example, Ted Cruz garnered a significant amount of political capital by underscoring his differences with GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Progressives have also used this tactic.

This anti-establishment fervor has been exacerbated by misguided legislation that has directed spending power away from political parties and into the hands of grassroots groups and Super PACs. As a result, parties have lost a significant amount of bargaining power to more fringe influences.

That’s not to suggest that establishment politics are perfect. But too much deconsolidation can lead to dysfunctional politics and hyper-partisanship.

By no means did the Democratic establishment rectify all these issues by rallying around Biden. But it’s encouraging to see parties take more of an active role in affecting the outcomes of their primaries. For those who want to stabilize the political turmoil that’s erupted of late, it’s a big step in the right direction.

Ethan Lamb is a Young Voices contributor and a law student at Georgetown University. Follow him on Twitter @realethanlamb.

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Anxiety grows in Capitol as lawmakers weigh remote voting

The House physician’s office had been aggressive in tracking down potential contacts, compiling a list of people who were in close proximity and asking questions like whether they shook hands. From that list, the physician’s office then called each person individually to ask more questions, and further trace any interactions.

Lawmakers and staff were told to isolate themselves if they’d been in close quarters with either McAdams or Diaz-Balart, and any relevant offices were disinfected immediately.

For McAdams, who developed symptoms on Saturday night, all contacts were traced back to Thursday night. The Utah Democrat had been in contact with more than a dozen lawmakers and staff members on Friday night, socializing in one member’s office as the chamber awaited a vote in the House that wasn’t called until after midnight.

Diaz-Balart, meanwhile, was one of several deputy whips who participated in a 90-minute meeting in House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s office on Friday, where they joined in on a Republican conference call and then watched Trump’s press conference on TV. Now, the core of the GOP whip’s team – including Scalise — will be sidelined in self-isolation until March 27.

But the hope among leadership is that the next stimulus package will be so bipartisan that their vote-counting operation — and even the House Rules Committee — won’t be as necessary as it would under normal circumstances. There’s also been discussions about “pre-whipping” legislation, according to Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), one of the deputy whips who has been forced to self-quarantine.

“I very much want to vote on the next bill, but if they have to move ahead because it’s an emergency, I understand,” said Cole, who is also the top Republican on the House Rules Committee.

“So far, we haven’t lost many members [on coronavirus bills] and votes haven’t been so close,” he added, before acknowledging: “but they could be.”

One scenario floated by GOP lawmakers and aides: if they can pass legislation by unanimous consent — or if quarantined members have to miss the roll call vote — they can just formally enter into the record how they would have voted on the bill.

Even before the two lawmakers were diagnosed, there was growing anxiety among House members and staff about the inevitability of the virus spreading on Capitol Hill. Several staffers had already tested positive in both chambers. And while congressional leaders are taking steps to limit physical interactions during votes and meetings, the very nature of the job makes it nearly impossible for members to socially distance themselves. Everything from elevator buttons to the Capitol’s underground trains could become a hotbed for the virus.

The stress about potential infections in the Capitol complex has been compounded by the gravity of the legislative challenge ahead: a $1 trillion package being drafted in mere days with the entire economy hinging on the result.

“The mood is very very somber,” one senior Democratic aide said. “I think we realize we’re staring down one of the worst public health crises we’ve ever faced, and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”

Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Van Taylor (R-Texas) led a bipartisan letter on Wednesday night calling for remote voting, with signatures from more than 50 members.

“When it comes to social distancing and public health best practices, Congress should be an example, not an exception,” Porter wrote on Twitter.

The idea of remote voting has also drawn attention in the Senate, despite McConnell dismissing the suggestion earlier in the week. As concerns grow across the Capitol about the rapid spread of the deadly virus — which is especially harmful to the elderly — more senators raised the possibility Thursday.

“I think it’s important if we’re talking about weeks or months,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said when asked about the possibility of the Senate working remotely. “We probably cannot keep operating all in one location.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), was looking at the possibility of allowing senators to vote via telephone in the case of a national emergency.

“Don’t want to make the Senate telephonic, where you call in your vote. That would not be what the Senate’s all about,” Schumer told NPR. “But during this emergency, we would allow that. We’re looking at allowing that to happen. We think it’s constitutionally allowed.”

Separately, Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill Thursday that would allow Senate leaders to institute remote voting for up to 30 days during a national crisis.

Some more senior senators, however, have dismissed the idea. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told reporters on Wednesday: “It is my understanding that there will not be remote voting.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have opted for conference calls. And at least one member, Sen. Sherrod Brown, has decided to drive himself to Washington, instead of taking a plane. Senate Republicans are continuing to ignore advice from the CDC — and even Trump — and met in person for lunch Thursday.

McConnell is moving swiftly to pass a third phase of Congress’ response to the coronavirus — a trillion-dollar stimulus package with billions of dollars directed toward massive industries and small businesses and direct cash payments for Americans impacted by the virus.

“We’re not talking about so-called bailouts for firms that made reckless decisions…none of these firms — not corner stores, not pizza parlors, not airlines — brought this on themselves,” McConnell said Thursday. “We’re talking about loans which must be repaid.”

The Kentucky Republican is expected to introduce text of the GOP proposal later Thursday and then begin negotiations with Schumer.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are working on a counter-proposal, hoping to use that as a bargaining chip in discussions with the Senate. Schumer and Pelosi have repeatedly called for “four corner” negotiations between them, McConnell and McCarthy on the third stimulus package, an idea McConnell has dismissed.

McConnell has said the Senate would not leave until it passes the “Phase 3” legislation. But on the floor Thursday, the GOP leader said that wouldn’t be the last action Congress takes to address the coronavirus pandemic.

The administration has already asked for another $48 billion in emergency supplemental funding to address the crisis — a request McConnell said his chamber would immediately begin work on after moving the “phase 3” bill.

“Immediately after we pass this legislation, Congress must begin a bipartisan, bicameral appropriations process to address the administration’s new supplemental funding request,” McConnell said on the floor.

“We have to beat back this virus.”

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Mnuchin Proposes $1,000 Checks in $1 Trillion Coronavirus Plan

WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Thursday that the White House wants to send $1,000 payments to every American adult and $500 per child within three weeks to prop up the United States economy as it has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal is part of a $1 trillion economic stabilization plan to help weather a potentially deep recession prompted by the crisis, which would require congressional approval. Lawmakers were racing on Thursday to reach an agreement on the measure, which would constitute a third phase of a government rescue package whose cost has already soared into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

And Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, suggested that the emerging measure could be followed by a fourth relief package as lawmakers grasp for ways to respond to an extraordinary situation.

“This is not Congress’s last chance to legislate, but it is critical that we move swiftly and boldly to begin to stabilize our economy, preserve Americans’ jobs, get money for workers and families and keep up our fight on the health front,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “These are not ordinary policies. This is no ordinary time.”

Senate Republicans were hoping to have draft legislation ready as early as Thursday afternoon, after Mr. McConnell said on Wednesday that they were near a deal with the White House that would be the starting point for negotiations with Democrats.

Mr. Mnuchin said that if the crisis continues, the plan would be to send one round of checks in April, and another of the same amounts in May. It is not clear whether Americans of every income bracket would be eligible for the payments, or how they would be disbursed to people who do not have bank accounts. The Trump administration proposed this week sending a total of $500 billion directly to Americans in two tranches, and providing another $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees to businesses.

“What we’re really focused on is providing liquidity to American businesses and American workers,” Mr. Mnuchin said on the Fox Business Network on Thursday. “This is an unprecedented situation.”

Senate Republicans on Thursday drafted a plan that would send payments of $1,200 to individual taxpayers and $2,400 to families, with another $500 per child, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who insisted on anonymity to describe an emerging proposal. The direct payments, they said, would begin phasing out for those earning more than $75,000. Individuals who made more than $99,000 and families earning more than $198,000 would not be eligible. But the details were far from final as negotiations continued throughout the day.

And even after they finalize their proposal, the Republicans must still come to terms with Democrats to win its enactment.

While there is general agreement about the need to speed economic help to millions of Americans, House Democrats are debating how to target the direct payments and some of them are pushing for more government intervention. During a private conference call on Thursday, they debated where to set the income cap on individuals who could receive government checks, according to three people familiar with the discussion who insisted on anonymity to describe the private discussion. And some Democrats believe the government should intervene more directly and take on payroll or other expenses for small businesses, arguing that could be a more targeted and effective way to keep them afloat and people employed.

The fiscal relief package is only one part of the administration’s plan, which some analysts now anticipate topping $1.5 trillion before the negotiations are completed. Mr. Mnuchin said the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve were working in lock step and were prepared to do whatever was possible to provide liquidity to American companies so they could weather the crisis without laying off workers. The Federal Reserve said late Wednesday night that it would offer emergency loans to money market mutual funds, its latest in a series of steps to keep the financial system functioning and prop up the economy.

The Treasury secretary also suggested that the government was open to taking equity stakes in companies to support them. He added that businesses that take advantage of emergency loans will be given loan forgiveness if they cannot pay them back.

“We’re looking at making secured loans on market terms,” Mr. Mnuchin said, referring to industries such as airlines. “We’ll see whether that includes equity or doesn’t include equity.”

He said he had advised the president to purchase oil, which is at historically low prices, and fill up America’s strategic reserve.

Economists are bracing for a deep recession. Analysts at J.P. Morgan said this week that the United States economy could contract by 14 percent in the second quarter of this year.

The Treasury Department has not released updated economic projections, but Mr. Mnuchin said that he expected the beginnings of growth again in the third quarter and a “gigantic” rebound in the final three months of the year.

At a White House news conference on Thursday, President Trump said the most important goal of the economic package being negotiated in Congress was to stave off job losses so the economy could rebound.

“When we do get rid of the virus, we are going to be able to just, really I think, go like a rocket,” Mr. Trump said. Despite that optimism, the president was clearly frustrated by the fallout, snapping at a reporter who noted that the economy was at a standstill and lamenting the speed of the downward trajectory.

“It’s too bad because we never had an economy as good as the economy we had just a few weeks ago,” he said.

Economic data is beginning to trickle out, offering a grim preview of the damage that lies ahead. Official figures released on Thursday showed claims for unemployment insurance reaching their highest level in more than two years.

“The coronavirus outbreak is already starting to have a significant impact on the economy,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “Timelier reports of state-level data point to an unprecedented surge in layoffs over the next couple of weeks.”

The Treasury secretary indicated that he and the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, would use all the tools at their disposal to allow that workers and businesses to subsist for the next few months.

Mr. McConnell has tapped several Republican senators and their staff aides to hammer out the elements of what lawmakers have begun referring to as the “Phase 3” economic rescue plan. Earlier this month, Congress approved a first, $8.3 billion round of emergency money for federal health agencies, and this week it finalized a second measure — whose cost has yet to be tallied — to provide paid leave, jobless aid and food and health care assistance, as well as free coronavirus testing. Mr. Trump has signed both.

For the third rescue plan, senators are looking in part to previous stimulus packages for guidance, including the 2008 Wall Street bailout and the program created after the Sept. 11 attacks to help airlines. But this time, they are discussing adding far more restrictions and guardrails to ensure that employees reap the majority of the benefits and executives cannot increase their own compensation.

One proposal circulating among senators and aides is limiting the $1,000 payments proposed by the administration to individual taxpayers who earn less than $75,000 and families who earn less than a collective $150,000, according to two people familiar with the discussions, who insisted on anonymity to disclose details of private, unfinished negotiations.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the Republican chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, unveiled a $300 billion proposal to provide grants to small businesses. Mr. Rubio said they had spoken with Democrats before publicizing their plans.

The proposal would provide cash-flow assistance structured as federally guaranteed loans to employers who pledge not to lay off their workers — potentially as much as the employer needs to stay in business for six weeks without layoffs. Those loans would be available during an emergency period ending June 30, and would be forgiven if the employer continued to pay their workers for the duration of the crisis.

The goal, Mr. Rubio wrote on Twitter on Thursday, was to “get cash to small business” as “fast & easy as possible so they don’t have to lay people off & if they use it for that purpose doesn’t have to be paid back.”

Mr. Mnuchin and other administration officials have been in constant communication with Senate Republicans. He has also spoken frequently with both Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader.

Both Democratic leaders have said they want to see an expansion of paid-leave provisions in the upcoming package, which were narrowed significantly in the legislation Mr. Trump signed into law Wednesday after Republicans balked at the scope of the Democratic language.

“As we proceed with further legislation, we all see this tragic pandemic as a challenge for us to shape an economy that puts families first,” Ms. Pelosi wrote in a letter to her caucus, adding that committee leaders were discussing the possibility of expanding unemployment insurance eligibility, refundable tax credits and funds for small businesses to ensure that workers continue to be paid.

Time is of the essence in the talks. The news Wednesday night that two House lawmakers had tested positive for coronavirus after voting early Saturday has added pressure for senators to cut a swift deal on the package and depart Washington indefinitely.

The House, which left for a scheduled recess Saturday after the vote, has not set a date to return to the Capitol, and a number of lawmakers have announced their intent to self-quarantine after coming into contact with Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, and Ben McAdams, Democrat of Utah, the two who tested positive.

Ms. Pelosi is expected to hold a call with her caucus Thursday afternoon to discuss proposals for the stimulus package, as well as concerns from some lawmakers about the need to establish a system for remote voting — an idea that both Ms. Pelosi and Mr. McConnell have so far dismissed.

Nicholas Fandos, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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Donald Trump is *really* ramping up his efforts to rewrite coronavirus history

At his now-daily press briefing on Thursday, Trump went into overdrive as he attempts to deflect any and all blame for the current crisis gripping not just America but the world.

Let’s go through some of the specifics of what Trump said — and why they don’t comport with established facts.

1) “We were prepared. The only thing we were not prepared for was the media. The media doesn’t acknowledge that.”

Trump here is trying to use his favorite playbook — the media isn’t treating me fairly — to explain away any/all criticism that his administration was not properly prepared for the virus coming to America.

But we know, because Vice President Mike Pence told us, that there were not enough coronavirus tests available to meet the need.
Trump himself also spent much of the late winter/early spring downplaying the risk that coronavirus posed to the public — including suggesting with no medical proof that the virus would lessen when temperatures warmed. “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away,” he said at a campaign rally in February.
By early March, when infectious disease experts were recommending that drastic social distancing policies needed to be put in place to slow the spread of the virus, Trump was still referring to it as essentially a flu. “It’s very mild,” he told Sean Hannity in early March.

2) “It would have been much better if we had known about this a number of months earlier. It could have been contained to that one area in China where it started. And certainly the world is paying a big price for what they did.”

This is part of Trump’s attempt to rebrand the coronavirus as the “China virus,” putting the blame for it squarely on the Chinese — and throwing it a bit of xenophobia while he’s at it!

Unfortunately, the facts simply don’t back up Trump’s claim that he (and America more generally) didn’t know about the virus until recently.

As The New York Times’ David Leonhardt has so devastatingly demonstrated, Trump was being asked about coronavirus as far back as late January. Asked whether he was worried about the possibility of coronavirus becoming a pandemic, he replied: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”
Later that month, in a speech in Michigan, Trump said this: “We have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five. And those people are all recuperating successfully.”

3) “Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work. … Nobody in their wildest dreams would have thought we would need tens of thousands of ventilators.”

There’s no question that a virus this broad that is now in every single state requires a response that is a marriage of state and federal government. But time and time again, Trump has sought to blame governors — Democratic ones — for shortfalls or lack of preparedness.

“Failing Michigan Governor must work harder and be much more proactive,” Trump tweeted about Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month. And Trump’s on-again, off-again feud with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been the stuff of reality TV.

As for Trump’s claims that “nobody in their wildest dreams” could have foreseen the need for so many ventilators, well, again, China’s experience — and even that of Italy — suggests we could have foreseen that a large number of respiratory issues, all happening at the same time, could require a massive number of ventilators.

Remember that this — rewriting history to suit his own purposes — is something Trump does regularly. “Stick with us,” Trump told a Veterans of Foreign Wars group in 2018. “Don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. … What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
He is a President who, according to a count kept by The Washington Post, has said more than 16,000 false or misleading things in just his first three years in office.

Trump creates a reality that suits him. He has little concern for whether the facts back him up.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. And they don’t.

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Dogs Who Love Law & Order Sing Along to the Theme Song

This is a thread about dogs worth bracing yourself for.

Saturday Night Live writer Peter Schultz graced the internet with one of the best dog threads of the week on Wednesday. (And in a week with a noteworthy volume of dog content due to social distancing, that’s no easy feat.)

“This is as good a time as any to tell you that my dog sings along to the Law & Order theme song every time he hears it,” Schultz said.

The accompanying clip has been viewed 2.7 million times as of Thursday afternoon. In some additional tweets, Schultz proved that this wasn’t a one-off. His dog really just understands that melody.

And naturally, the pup’s name is Odafin — Ice-T’s character from the long-running series.

Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at rachel.greenspan@time.com.