Opinion: How Democrats on Capitol Hill are leveraging fear and suffering for political gain

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday.  Photo courtesy of Senate Television via AP

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks on the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Saturday. Photo courtesy of Senate Television via AP

On Monday night, the Trump administration and Senate leaders were working concertedly to pass a bipartisan rescue spending bill which would have provided $1.8 trillion in financial relief for American businesses and workers. The legislation included $850 billion for businesses to avoid credit defaults and widespread layoffs, as well as the rough equivalent for unemployment benefits, direct payment to households and a swell in medical spending. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) expressed enthusiasm for the bill on Saturday, noting his “delight and surprise” at the realization of such “bipartisan cooperation.”

As ought to be the case on Capitol Hill during times of crisis, lawmakers were prioritizing the immediate needs of the American people, setting aside their own political imperatives and those of their respective parties in order to ensure that the nation be stabilized, protected and otherwise primed to emerge from the initial chaos intact. But then, as is often the case on Capitol Hill during these times, cynical opportunists succumbed to the temptation to reap primacy for their partisan political agendas. In other words, they refused to allow a good crisis to go to waste. 

With an accord nearly struck Monday evening, certain members of the Democratic Party decided that the efforts of Senate Republicans and their Democratic counterparts were simply too business-friendly. The stimulus package wasn’t designed to keep afloat businesses which had been forcibly shut down by the government or to preserve work for the five to six million Americans who could become unemployed in the month of March alone as the economy lurches toward recession.

No, this bill was a “crony capitalist slush fund [for GOP] friends and donors,” according to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Failed Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren ripped the bill for being “a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends.” 

Shortly thereafter, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced that the lower chamber would write its own bill and Schumer acquiescently choked off Senate negotiations. This bill, as we learned, included a plethora of Democratic initiatives which had nothing to do with providing immediate relief for a paralyzed economy. The Pelosi bill included provisions for racial and gender equity pay, increased diversity on corporate boards, strengthened collective bargaining power for unions and the cancellation of U.S. Postal Service debt owed to the U.S. Treasury. If that weren’t sufficient, House Democrats also demanded climate change initiatives, including increased fuel emissions regulations, tax credits for alternative energy programs and mandatory carbon offsets for airlines. There were also provisions for student loan debt deferment, a $100 million giveaway to juvenile justice programs and the suspension of the enforcement of an amalgam of immigration laws, as well as a plethora of voting initiatives.

As House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) cynically put it, the novel coronavirus crisis is “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”  

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Leveraging fear is one objectionable matter, but leveraging tangible suffering is entirely another. 

There is a reprehensibility to politicians who would permit the insolvency of millions of businesses and the unemployment of tens of millions of Americans in order to corner their political opponents and extract political concessions irrelevant to the present circumstance. Leveraging fear is one objectionable matter, but leveraging tangible suffering is entirely another. 

The historic volatility of the stock market recently is a clear demonstration of the uncertainty people are feeling regarding their employment, businesses, life and retirement savings and investments, and economic prospects coming out of this. Congressional Democrats have done little to reassure Americans of their commitment to protecting workers and their families. Instead of compensating businesses which the government has closed to pay workers that the government has sent home – thereby ensuring the preservation of employment opportunities on the other side of this – Democrats would condemn these businesses to insolvency, effectively ensuring that the employees who worked at those ventures prior to the pandemic will not be working after it. That they would derail fruitful, bipartisan negotiations and hold hostage aid to extract extraneous partisan concessions is indicative of much of the party’s attitude toward crises. 

If this calamity isn’t managed effectively, the American economy and life as we know it could be altered forever and for worse. This is not the time for partisan politics. With the White House and the Senate working Wednesday to reach consensus on yet another revised, rescue spending bill, Pelosi and her House colleagues ought to save debate on immaterial, partisan initiatives for a more appropriate time.

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Kevin Catapano is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.catapano@uconn.edu.

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