It has been almost four years since Congress approved and Donald Trump signed a massive relief bill aimed at limiting the financial hardship created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act did its job.
Migrants wait at night next to the border wall to surrender to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol agents to process immigration applications. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP)
Although around 25 million Americans temporarily lost their jobs – with the job losses caused primarily by fear of infection rather than officially ordered closures – there was far less monetary pain than might have been expected, given the magnitude of the public health crisis. .
In fact, according to a Federal Reserve survey, the percentage of Americans who were “at least doing well financially” was actually higher in July 2020 than before the pandemic, presumably because for many people government aid, including the one-time checks and greatly improved unemployment benefits more than offset the loss of jobs and businesses.
Furthermore, fears that generous pandemic aid would undermine America's work ethic—that adults would drop out of the workforce and never return—turned out to be completely wrong.
A new paper from the San Francisco Federal Reserve is titled “Why is Early Childhood Labor Force Participation So High?”
It notes that Americans ages 25 to 54 are more likely to be in the workforce now than at any time since the early 2000s.
So the CARES Act was a huge political success.
But given recent political events, I've started thinking:
What would have happened if Democrats in 2020 had behaved like Republicans in 2024?
Let's imagine an alternative history in which Joe Bidenwho by then was already the heavy favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, would have urged Democrats in Congress not to pass a relief bill – in the same way that Trump has intimidated Republicans into voting on against a border security bill– because he believed that reducing American misery could help Trump get re-elected.
Let's imagine a story in which Nancy Pelosithe Democratic Speaker of the House at the time, would have behaved like Mike Johnson, the current Republican Speaker, and prevented a bill that attempted to address an urgent national priority from reaching the floor.
It seems clear that the CARES Act did, in fact, help Republicans politically.
It's true they lost the White House in 2020, but by a margin less decisive than many expected, and that although the Democrats won control of the Senate, they did so by the smallest possible margin.
Republicans surely would have fared much worse if Trump had been in office. a depression COVID-induced on a large scale.
And the GOP continues, to this day, to benefit from that 2020 COVID relief package. Republicans constantly brag about how good the economy was under Trump, which is peculiar, given that Trump was the first president since Herbert Hoover in leaving the White House with fewer Americans employed than when he moved in.
The trick here is that they pretend that 2020 never happened — a sleight of hand that only works because federal aid allowed so many Americans to emerge from the pandemic depression in good financial shape.
Now, my imaginary story didn't happen and couldn't have happened.
For starters, Pelosi is not that kind of politician.
She is partisan, of course, but has never, to my knowledge, engaged in political extortion by holding the nation's well-being hostage.
For example, in 2019, he shepherded a bipartisan agreement to suspend the debt ceiling, averting a potential financial crisis, with an agreement that Trump himself admitted did not contain “poison pills.”
Even if Pelosi herself had wanted to carry out economic sabotage, her colleagues would almost certainly have refused.
But Trump's Republicans (and recent events have confirmed that Trump really owns the Republican Party) are everything the 2020 Democrats were not.
They have rejected a border security and foreign aid bill that they themselves demanded and then negotiated, one that was much tougher than Democrats would have wanted.
And they're not even trying to hide their naked cynicism.
They want to block a border deal, even one that gives them almost everything they want, because any deal could limit their ability to attack Biden on this issue.
Oh, and a significant fraction of Republicans, Trump included, would prefer to block aid to Ukraine because, by all appearances, Vladimir Putin He's their kind of man, and they're happy to see him crush their democratic neighbor.
It is clear that Biden plans to make Republican sabotage a major issue in the 2024 campaign – in the style of the campaign Harry Truman against the “do-nothing Congress” in 1948 – with the added bonus that this time the Republicans are more or less openly trying to harm American interests for political gain.
It remains to be seen whether this strategy will work.
But even if it works, and Biden wins – even if Democrats regain full control of Congress – I worry about the future.
One of the two main political parties in the United States is now dedicated to achieving power at all costs and will try to make the nation ungovernable when a Democrat sits in the White House.
How long can our democracy survive under these conditions?
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