Then came the Trump administration intervention — a proposal from Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, that McConnell quickly endorsed even though it was disastrously wrongheaded.
I’m not sure whether the coverage of this discussion has fully explained just how bad Mnuchin’s proposal is. Many headlines emphasized the cost, a bit over $900 billion, which was similar to that of the emerging bipartisan bill, suggesting that the administration was weighing in with something positive.
In fact, however, the administration proposal completely eliminated the most important piece of any relief deal — expanded benefits for the unemployed — replacing it with one-time $600 checks that would be sent to everyone.
Again, think about it. For Americans who won’t be able to return to work while the pandemic is still raging, a one-time payment of $600 is grossly inadequate, while for those who haven’t lost their jobs it’s unnecessary. It’s true that people might spend some of the grant, boosting overall demand — but overall lack of demand isn’t the main problem right now.
So what is Mnuchin thinking? We can’t rule out sheer ignorance. It is, sad to say, entirely possible that, nine months into the pandemic slump, administration officials still don’t understand the basic logic of relief. Or they may be in thrall to the thoroughly debunked myth that unemployment benefits actually cause high unemployment.
Or maybe this proposal reflects the expiring administration’s special combination of delusion and cynicism. President Trump is still trying, in ever more desperate and destructive ways, to overturn the results of the election. And in his madness he may imagine that he will gain more politically from sending everyone another check with his name on it than from helping those truly in need.
Whatever the motivation, Mnuchin’s proposal couldn’t have come at a worse time. It may well undermine the economic relief millions of Americans need.
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