Reflecting on the roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief package that he called “pathetic” for its obscene giveaways to the wealthy and meager assistance for the working class, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday warned of devastating consequences for the United States if Democrats continue capitulating to the GOP’s efforts to impose austerity in the midst of an ongoing public health emergency and massive economic crisis.
“The fundamental political question of our time is: are we going to allow Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party, and corporate America to return us to austerity politics, or are we going to build a dynamic economy that works for everyone?”
The democratic socialist from Vermont acknowledged in an email to supporters that the Covid-19 relief bill provides a non-retroactive $300-per-week federal boost to unemployment insurance and extends those benefits through March. The legislation also allocates funding for schools, child care, broadband, food and housing aid, vaccine distribution, and—thanks to the efforts of progressive lawmakers and organizations—includes a $600 direct payment to many Americans.
Nevertheless, and reiterating what economists have stressed for weeks, Sanders said that “given the enormous economic desperation that so many working families are now experiencing, it is nowhere near enough as to what is needed.”
In light of President-elect Biden’s Sunday night statement applauding the bipartisan agreement as “a model for the challenging work ahead for our nation,” Sanders expressed fear that “by reaching this agreement, we are setting a bad precedent and setting the stage for a return to austerity politics now that Joe Biden is set to take office.”
Sanders summarized pandemic-related legislative efforts since May:
The House passed a $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, which was a very serious effort to address the enormous health and economic crises facing our country. Two months later, the House passed another version of that bill for $2.2 trillion.
That same month, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a $1.1 trillion piece of legislation that included a $1,200 direct payment for every working class American.
Months later, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, negotiating on behalf of President Donald Trump, proposed a Covid relief plan with Speaker Pelosi for $1.8 trillion that also included a $1,200 direct payment.
And yet, after months of bipartisan negotiations by the so-called Gang of 8, we ended up with a bill of just $908 billion that includes $560 billion in unused money from the previously passed CARES Act—a worse deal than was previously proposed by Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.
So we went from $3.4 trillion, to $2.2 trillion, to $1.8 trillion from Trump and $1.1 trillion from Mitch McConnell to just $348 billion in new money—roughly 10% of what Democrats thought was originally needed and half of what Trump and McConnell offered in direct payments.
“This is not good negotiating,” the senator said. “This is a collapse.”
Once Biden’s victory in the presidential election became clear, Sanders added, “we started to hear a lot of talk from my Senate colleagues in the Republican Party about their old friend the deficit.”
Direct payments of $1,200 to every working-class American and $500 for their children, fiscal aid for state and local governments, and stronger unemployment benefits all became things “we couldn’t afford… because of the deficit.”
The irony, Sanders pointed out, is that “this is the same Republican Party so concerned about the deficit” that it does things like:
- pass a $1.9 trillion tax cut benefitting the wealthiest strata in the U.S. at the expense of the vast majority;
- spend trillions on war over the past two decades;
- approve last week a $740 billion Pentagon budget, the largest bill of its kind in the history of the country and one that spends more money on defense “than the next 10 nations combined”;
- lavish the climate-destroying fossil fuel industry with billions in subsidies; and
- provide billions in corporate welfare to profitable companies paying workers “starvation wages… that must be supplemented by taxpayer-supported programs.”
“And during any of these debates, do you recall any of my Republican colleagues asking how these proposals were going to be paid for? I don’t,” said Sanders. “So forgive me for thinking their sudden display of concern for the deficit seems a bit insincere. More to the point: it’s total hypocrisy!”
Yes. We should be providing every working-class American with $2,000 a month during the pandemic – just like they did in Canada. When you vote for over $1 trillion in tax breaks for the top 1% and large corporations, please. Spare us the lecture on the deficit. Enough is enough. https://t.co/VZKHPfpFwo
— Warren Gunnels (@GunnelsWarren) December 22, 2020
Highlighting the pervasiveness of unemployment, poverty, hunger, and housing insecurity, Sanders noted that “there is more economic desperation in our country today than at any point since the Great Depression.” The senator explained that addressing every problem facing working-class Americans—from expanding healthcare to rebuilding our infrastructure and implementing a Green New Deal—will cost money.
“At this unprecedented moment in American history, with a growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, and when many millions of Americans are suffering, Democrats in Congress must stand up for the working families of our country.”
“If we allow Republicans to set the parameters of the debate going forward, like they did in this current Covid relief bill,” Sanders added, “the next two to four years are going to be a disaster.”
According to Sanders, “the fundamental political question of our time is: are we going to allow Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party, and corporate America to return us to austerity politics, or are we going to build a dynamic economy that works for everyone?”
Echoing an argument made by The Daily Poster’s David Sirota about how Biden’s zealous commitment to austerity ideology facilitated the watering-down of coronavirus relief, Sanders called the legislation “a very dangerous precedent” that must be opposed.
“Our concern at this moment,” the senator said, “is that no matter what happens in Georgia next month, and which party controls the Senate, we cannot allow this type of inadequate negotiation again on major legislation.”
“At this unprecedented moment in American history, with a growing gap between the very rich and everyone else, and when many millions of Americans are suffering, Democrats in Congress must stand up for the working families of our country,” he said.
Emphasizing the need for “an aggressive agenda that speaks to the needs of the working class in this country, income and wealth inequality, health care, climate change, education, racial justice, immigration reform, and so many other vitally important issues,” Sanders added: “No more caving in.”
This post was originally published on Radio Free.