Monday, May 11, 2020

Last Call For Austerity Hy-CARES-ia

House Democrats could pass a $1.2 trillion "Phase 4" COVID-19 stimulus package before the end of the month, if not sooner, at least if WIN THE MORNING 2.0™ is to be believed.

House Democrats could bring their phase 4 coronavirus relief package (CARES 2) to the floor for a vote as early as this week — but, for now at least, it's going nowhere.

The state of play: Democrats have crafted a $1.2 trillion+ package without input from the White House or Hill Republicans, congressional aides familiar with their plans tell Axios. 
GOP leadership says it's still waiting for billions of aid allocated in the first $2.2 trillion CARES Act to go out the door. 
The White House says it wants to evaluate the economic impact of reopening before passing another large stimulus package.

But House Democrats see the proposal as a way to lay down a marker of their priorities and prod congressional Republicans and the White House toward more economic relief for individuals, state and local governments, and the U.S. Postal Service. 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her caucus also want to show voters that they're still working, despite members remaining in their districts. 
Those optics could be important politically given the Senate's decision to return to Washington last week. (House Republicans have been chiding Democrats for staying home in their districts when, they say, they should be at work.)

So what's in the new bill? Some good stuff.

Details: The legislation, which is still being drafted and is subject to change, is expected to include: 
  • Roughly $1 trillion for state and local governments. They want to split this money into separate revenue streams to ensure each community can access it.
  • More money for hospitals and COVID-19 testing.
  • Roughly $25 billion to keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat.
  • Expanded nutritional benefits, Medicaid funding and unemployment insurance (which they call “paycheck guarantee”).
  • Another round of direct payments to Americans.

If Pelosi and the Dems can get this passed, that throws down the gauntlet in an election year with tens of thousands of Americans dying per week and tens of millions losing their jobs.

But Mitch McConnell has simply ignored grand House bills before, and up until now Senate Republicans haven't been made to pay any sort of price whatsoever, remember they gained Senate seats in 2018 as Pelosi took the gavel.

Of course, that looks like it's going to change.

Republicans are increasingly nervous they could lose control of the Senate this fall as a potent combination of a cratering economy, President Trump’s handling of the pandemic and rising enthusiasm among Democratic voters dims their electoral prospects.

In recent weeks, GOP senators have been forced into a difficult political dance as polling shifts in favor of Democrats: touting their own response to the coronavirus outbreak without overtly distancing themselves from a president whose management of the crisis is under intense scrutiny but who still holds significant sway with Republican voters.

“It is a bleak picture right now all across the map, to be honest with you,” said one Republican strategist closely involved in Senate races who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss concerns within the party. “This whole conversation is a referendum on Trump, and that is a bad place for Republicans to be. But it’s also not a forever place.”

Republicans have privately become alarmed at the situation in key races where they are counting on GOP incumbents such as Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Thom Tillis (N.C.) to hold the line.

Multiple strategists said they believe GOP candidates will recover once the nation — and the presidential campaign — returns to a more normal footing, casting the November elections as a contest between Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Democratic Senate candidates in the most closely watched races also could be benefiting from a lack of scrutiny and negative ads with the nation’s attention consumed by the pandemic.

But a return to normalcy ahead of the elections is far from a given as the death toll continues to rise and economic data paints a grim picture, meaning the president’s handling of the pandemic could be the determining factor not only for his reelection but for Republicans’ ability to hold on to the Senate. In short, as goes Trump, so probably goes the Senate majority

Trump wants to be the hero here, and as with the original CARES package, it's possible that something might actually get passed.  But I also expect that as with the first CARES bill, the devil will be in the details, specifically in how the White House actually implements the bill.

They botched literally everything in the first CARES bill, ranging from the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses being a complete disaster, to Trump demanding his signature be on the stimulus checks, delaying printing,  to the bulk of the money going to hedge funds and large corporations who turned around and announced massive layoffs.

So no, I don't expect anything like this bill to actually pass, if anything passes at all.  Odds are all but guaranteed that this bill will sit in the Senate until McConnell is replaced as majority leader and not a moment before.

Unfortunately by the time that happens, our economy may well have cratered beyond saving.

Trump Goes Viral, Con't

With two White House staffers testing positive for COVID-19 last week, the Trump regime is in full panic mode as they've found a political enemy that Trump is powerless to stop.

The Trump administration is racing to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus inside the White House, as some senior officials believe that the disease is already spreading rapidly through the warren of cramped offices that make up the three floors of the West Wing.

Three top officials leading the government’s coronavirus response have begun two weeks of self-quarantine after two members of the White House staff — one of President Trump’s personal valets and Katie Miller, the spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence — tested positive. But others who came into contact with Ms. Miller and the valet are continuing to report to work at the White House.

“It is scary to go to work,” Kevin Hassett, a top economic adviser to the president, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program on Sunday. Mr. Hassett said he wore a mask at times at the White House, but conceded that “I think that I’d be a lot safer if I was sitting at home than I would be going to the West Wing.”

He added: “It’s a small, crowded place. It’s, you know, it’s a little bit risky. But you have to do it because you have to serve your country.”

The discovery of the two infected employees has prompted the White House to ramp up its procedures to combat the virus, asking more staff members to work from home, increasing usage of masks and more rigorously screening people who enter the complex.

It is not clear how many other White House officials Ms. Miller or the valet might have come into contact with in recent days, but many members of the West Wing staff who were most likely in meetings with Ms. Miller before she tested positive are still coming to work, according to senior administration officials.

Late Sunday, the White House put out a statement saying that Mr. Pence would not alter his routine or self-quarantine. The vice president “has tested negative every single day and plans to be at the White House tomorrow,” said Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for Mr. Pence.

The concern about an outbreak of the virus at the White House — and the swift testing and contact tracing being done to contain it — underscores the broader challenge for Americans as Mr. Trump urges them to begin returning to their workplaces despite warnings from public health officials that the virus continues to ravage communities across the country.

Most restaurants, offices and retail stores do not have the ability to regularly test all their employees and quickly track down and quarantine the contacts of anyone who gets infected. At the White House, all employees are being tested at least weekly, officials said, and a handful of top aides who regularly interact with the president are being tested daily.

“To get in with the president, you have to test negative,” Mr. Hassett said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

Mr. Trump continues to reject guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to wear a mask when meeting with groups of people. But a senior administration official said the president was spooked that his valet, who is among those who serve him food, had not been wearing a mask. And he was annoyed to learn that Ms. Miller tested positive and has been growing irritated with people who get too close to him, the official said.

Trump can't bully or threaten the virus, but he can sure threaten and bully the people around him on a daily basis. That won't save him this time though, will it? Sooner or later somebody very close to Trump and Pence is going to get sick, maybe badly ill.

We know Trump surrounds himself with sycophants, not geniuses. They are loyal to his power, yes, but they also believe in his myths. They don't think they'll get sick. They don't think anything bad will happen to them.

But the virus doesn't care.

They are going to screw up, and somebody important is going to get extremely sick.

That's the wild card in all of this.

It's going to get past the daily testing and the measures because the number one factor in spreading COVID-19 is human behavior, and Donald Trump can't cut himself off from people because he feeds on adoration and praise. He has to surround himself with sycophants. He has a pathological need for it.

And it's going to bit him in his orange ass.


Boris And The Virus

As bad as things are in the US with Trump's ridiculous lack of response to COVID-19, it's far worse in the UK, where PM Boris Johnson's refusal to lock down the nation quickly enough is now responsible for 32,000 deaths in a country of 67 million, roughly .05% of the nation has died to it, with a third of a percent of the entire country infected, and that's just the confirmed cases.

The coronavirus lockdown will not end yet, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday, urging people to “stay alert” to the risks as he outlined plans to begin slowly easing measures that have closed much of the economy for seven weeks.

While his directions were for England, the government wants the United Kingdom’s other nations to take the same approach. But there were immediate divisions, with the leaders of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland saying they were sticking with the existing “stay-at-home” message.

In a televised address, Johnson announced a limited easing of restrictions, including allowing people to exercise outside more often and encouraging some people to return to work.

“This is not the time simply to end the lockdown,” he said. “Instead we are taking the first careful steps to modify our measures.”

The government has faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic and Johnson is wary of taking the brakes off too soon. Britain’s coronavirus death toll - 31,855 - is the second highest in the world, behind the United States.

With both the death rate and hospital admissions falling, it would be “madness” to allow a second spike in infections, he said.

But the decision to replace the government’s “stay-at-home” slogan, drummed into the public for weeks, was criticised by opposition parties who called the new “stay alert” message ambiguous.

Johnson said people should continue to work from home if they could, but those who cannot, such people working in construction and manufacturing, should be “actively encouraged to go to work”.
From Wednesday, people will be allowed to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise, he said, and can sit in the sun in their local park, drive to other destinations, and play sports with members of their own household.

Until now, people have been told only to exercise outdoors once a day and do so locally. Social distancing rules must still be obeyed, Johnson said, adding that fines would be increased for those who break them.

Johnson said he would set out further details to parliament on Monday, when a “roadmap” document will be published.

But opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said Johnson had raised more questions than he had answered and there was now the prospect of different parts of the United Kingdom pulling in different directions.

“What the country wanted tonight was clarity and consensus, but we haven’t got either of those,” he said in a statement.

Only the dead get both clarity and consensus, it seems.

The death toll per capita is twice as high in the UK as it is here in the US, but it's nearly as bad as here if not even worse in Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.  Johnson and Trump are far from alone in their failures.

Keep that in mind as they try to rewrite history in Europe, too.


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