Yet in late March Congress passed, and Trump signed, the CARES Act, a huge spending bill that in important ways was just what America needed.
Now, the act was a “Christmas tree” bill, with something for almost everyone. Small businesses got loans that they could convert into grants if they used the money to maintain payrolls. Big businesses got loans, too. Most adults got stimulus checks, typically $1,200, in the hope that they would spend the money and hence support consumer demand.
But the really crucial element of the CARES Act was expanded aid to the unemployed. Benefits were expanded to people like gig workers who had previously fallen through the cracks, and everyone receiving benefits got an extra $600 a week.
This expansion of aid to the unemployed did double duty. It alleviated hardship, letting laid-off workers continue to pay rent and put food on the table. And it supported overall spending much more effectively than those stimulus checks, most of which were probably just saved.
Who deserves credit for this very good policy? A recent Times article describes Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, as the “architect” of the CARES Act and the bill as a “victory” for Trump. Actually, however, the crucial unemployment provisions were devised largely by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and the most you can say about Mnuchin and Trump is that they didn’t reject Democratic demands that these provisions be included.
That’s something, I guess.
But Republicans hated that $600 supplement, insisting — with no evidence — that it discouraged workers from taking jobs. Trump appeared to agree, and — perhaps buoyed by rising stocks — encouraged Senate Republicans to take a hard line as key provisions of the CARES Act expired. And because Republicans refused to extend crisis aid, or make a good-faith counteroffer, the supplement expired a month ago, even though we’re still down 13 million jobs from where we were in February.