According to economists, at least $1 trillion is necessary to avert a severe economic crisis in the United States. A second COVID-19 stimulus bill is needed—one that extends the $600 per week of federal unemployment benefits set to expire next week. Congressional Democrats are fully on board, having proposed a second bill weeks ago that includes another round of $1,200 checks to Americans.
Senate Republicans, however, are bogged down. They’re currently debating between shifting unemployment responsibility to the states, reducing payments from $600 per week to $200, and generally complicating the entire process. As WaPo’s Jeff Stein writes, congressional Republicans’ new plan “could also complicate negotiations with congressional Democrats” who simply favor extending COVID-19 unemployment benefits through January.
Extending federal unemployment and sending another round of stimulus checks isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a smart political play. But the GOP’s ideology won’t let them do it.
Republicans are in trouble right now. They can’t ignore Donald Trump’s abysmal polling and approval ratings much longer. Trump’s reelection chances are looking worse by the day as November inches closer, and he’s bringing Republicans down with him. Passing another stimulus and sending people money (with the president’s weird signature on the confirmation receipt) would be the perfect salve to win popular support during a time of economic strife.
Republicans, however, can’t just send people money. It’s not in their ideological purview. They believe extending unemployment benefits will de-incentivize people from working—and it will, because that’s the point. The benefits are meant to help keep people afloat while the government deals with the pandemic and creates safe working and living conditions for its people (hypothetically, of course).
But actually helping people doesn’t jibe with conservative dogma that any and all social benefits are parasitic and evil. The GOP has a diametric opposition to any program that provides relief or aid to poor or working class Americans. Even in the first stimulus bill, Republicans managed to provide more financial relief to large corporations than average Americans. The party genuinely believes there are swaths of poor people happy to live off the government’s dime, not struggling to make end’s meet while they can’t work without risking their lives.
The irony of Republicans’ unwillingness to extend benefits is juicy. They fancy themselves the party of the people and would love nothing more than to portray themselves as such. The problem is that it requires actually caring about average people and not disdaining or actively shaming people who can’t work as lazy or unmotivated. Republicans have railed against poor and working class people for years—not just because it was politically expedient, but because they represent the polar opposite of the Americans the GOP really wants to help.
A second round of stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits could be the boost to keep Trump and the GOP’s chances alive this November. But even their political cynicism somehow can’t extend that far.