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Republican Senators Tout Enhanced Unemployment Benefits They Opposed

Last week, 47 Republican senators and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to make unemployment benefits less generous in the coronavirus relief legislation.

Although their amendment to cap unemployment insurance was unsuccessful, several Republican senators spent the next few days bragging about the more generous benefits in the final bill.

Arizona Sen. Martha McSally

On March 26, McSally’s office sent an email touting the robust benefits she opposed just three earlier. The stimulus bill “makes benefits more generous by adding $600 per week on top of what the state normally pays in unemployment and provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits,” the email said. “And provisions will ensure state and local governments and non-profits can pay unemployment to their employees.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn

Three days after voting for the amendment to curtail unemployment benefits, Cornyn bragged about the increased assistance in a press release. Cornyn described the legislation as a “lifeline” for families that will help “cover their rent, groceries, electric bills, and other expenses until they can make other arrangements, like apply for unemployment insurance under our beefed up provisions.”

The statement contained a section noting that the bill “expands unemployment insurance for Texas workers,” including “an extra $600 weekly federal UI benefit on top of the state maximum temporarily.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell

McConnell voted against additional benefits, but that did not stop him from touting them just three days later in a March 26 press release.

The release states that the CARES Act “provides additional benefits to each recipient of unemployment insurance for up to four months and an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits after state benefits are no longer available,” adding that it “helps states pay for certain additional unemployment insurance costs.”

Montana Sen. Steve Daines

On the same day the final legislation passed, Daines released a statement bragging about the assistance Montana workers will receive from the legislation.

“The aid package puts Montana workers first, expands unemployment insurance,” Daines’ statement noted. It also referenced “$250 billion for unemployment insurance — this is to give relief to workers who lost their jobs because of this pandemic.”

The statement did not note that the unemployment insurance would have been less generous if Daines had gotten his way.

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst

Ernst described her vote for the CARES Act as “swift, bold action to deliver immediate aid to folks in Iowa, and across the country,” in a March 25 press release. She bragged that the legislation “bolsters unemployment benefits for workers and provides assistance to self-employed and contractors through a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.”

The statement does not mention her vote against the bolstered unemployment benefits.

Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler

Not all senators took credit for what they voted against.

Even though she is embroiled in a stock-selling scandal connected with the coronavirus crisis, Loeffler touted her opposition to more generous help for the unemployed during the pandemic.

The multimillionaire senator released a statement two days after voting for stingier unemployment benefits saying she was “disappointed that the amendment to fix the unemployment insurance provisions failed.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Right Now, Fiscal Restraint Is The Worst Folly

Fiscal discipline was once a durable American practice. But in the 1940s, it went out the window. The federal government embarked on a sudden, unprecedented binge of borrowing that put the nation in hock up to its ears.

From 1940 to 1945, federal spending rose tenfold. The national debt increased sixfold. The public would have to shoulder the burden of paying down that debt for decades to come.

There was, however, a good excuse for this gross budgetary excess: World War II. For a government, as with a person, there is usually no difference between being frugal and being wise. But when the nation’s survival is at stake, the risks of underspending are far greater than the risks of overspending.

A similar imperative exists today, as the new coronavirus endangers lives and causes economic disruption on a scale not seen since — well, since World War II. Last year, the federal budget deficit soared to nearly $1 trillion, at a time of sustained economic growth and prosperity. It was an atrocious figure, representing the latest fiscal failure by our political leaders.

But the spending package forged by Congress and the president to address the fallout of the pandemic will add up to more than double that amount, pushing overall spending to levels never imagined just weeks ago. The rescue plan is probably only the first of a series of huge spending bills meant to reduce the devastation from a locked-down economy.

For more years than I care to remember, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, I have been a consistent voice — OK, an insufferable scold — on the need for a thrifty and responsible governmental budget policy. I have stressed the importance of living within our means, paying the full cost of what we demand of our government and not piling needless obligations on future generations. There are many good moments for fiscal restraint. This is not one of them.

On the contrary, this is a moment when fiscal restraint would be the very definition of a false economy. In 1942, it would have been lunacy to worry about the cost of building up U.S. military capacity as rapidly as possible. The potential cost of not doing it, after all, would have been cataclysmic.

Today, we face enormous dangers. One is that millions of Americans thrown out of work or otherwise deprived of income will be unable to pay their bills, put food on the table or keep their homes. Refusing to help them through this crisis, which came about for reasons beyond their control, would exact a horrific human toll. It would also create general chaos that would stymie economic recovery for months if not years.

Likewise with businesses. In the absence of prompt federal aid, a wave of bankruptcies could wipe out companies that were healthy and profitable before — and have every prospect of being healthy and profitable afterward. The businesses would be gone, and so would the jobs they provided. People and companies desperately need a bridge across this troubled water.

Yes, the necessary measures will be shockingly expensive. Yes, they will have to be paid for with borrowed funds. Yes, they will enlarge a national debt that was already in the neighborhood of $24 trillion.

But the alternatives would be more costly yet. Replacing the old roof on your house sounds expensive until you compare it to the price of your home being wrecked in a storm because you didn’t replace the roof. New tires cost money, but bald ones can be fatal.

We should think of these federal outlays not as expenditures but investments. They are an essential recourse to protect our long-run interests.

How could we afford all this new debt? Through the robust revenue-generating economic activity that will resume if we successfully navigate the crisis. The larger debt burden will be easier to bear in the long run than a smaller debt would be if we let a brief, severe downturn become a prolonged depression.

Debts have to repaid with dollars, and dollars are something the Federal Reserve can create in any quantity needed. The worst case is that we will have to endure an eventual spell of inflation, which would be far preferable to an immediate and total economic collapse.

In most cases, our politicians deserve condemnation for spending money with wild abandon. In this moment, it’s the best thing they can do.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

‘Essential’ Workers At Amazon And Walmart Protest Unsafe Conditions

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Low-wage earners helping to keep the nation’s top retailers operating during the COVID-19 crisis are balking at the Trump administration’s bid to return to business as usual by Easter.

Frontline retail workers at Amazon and Walmart forced to work without the benefit of face masks, gloves or hand sanitizer are already afraid they are being exposed to COVID-19. They are calling on corporate CEOs to temporarily shutter their workplaces for thorough disinfection.

Earlier this month, Congress exempted large corporations including Walmart and Amazon from legislation mandating businesses provide emergency paid sick and family leave.

“I do understand the need for workers to be in the store in order for people who need medicine; for people who need supplies who have children — but there’s got be something done to help protect us,” 19-year Walmart worker Cyndi Murray told me this week.

‘Walmart hasn’t done anything to protect its employees. I watch people come in and out of our store and I worry what I’m going to do if I get sick.’

“Maybe at a point, shut down — sanitize the registers,” the Hyattsville, Maryland resident added. “Do they realize how many people come into these little self-checkouts? We have 10 registers inside one of our self-checkouts. Do you know how close people are to each other?”

Amazon warehouse worker Monica Moody, 32, told me the coronavirus pandemic has her and her North Carolina co-workers “freaked out.”

Facilities Need Cleaning

“People are probably coming to work sick and not know it,” Moody said. “We all want the same thing — we need to see the facility shut down temporarily, so it can be cleaned. And we need to be paid. Shut down with full pay.”

The last few weeks on the job have been “a blur” for El Paso Walmart employee Sanjuana Arreola.

“Customers have been rushing into the stores to stock up for weeks in isolation — rice, canned goods, and water — I’m scared,” the married mother of three said. “As a Walmart associate, I don’t get to practice social distancing. Walmart hasn’t done anything to protect its employees. I watch people come in and out of our store and I worry what I’m going to do if I get sick.”

Stacy Rowback is a struggling part-time Walmart employee from Upstate New York with a 14-month-old baby girl to care for back at home. The new mom says Walmart has provided the employees where she works with zero training and protection.

Guarding The Toilet Paper

“They’ve not changed anything in my store,” Rowback told me. “The only thing they are doing is guarding toilet paper.”

All the workers quoted above are part of the Paid Leave for All campaign — a broad coalition of organizations urging Congress to pass a stimulus package that closes loopholes exempting both very large enterprises with 500 or more employees and smaller companies with fewer than 50 workers — and extends family sick leave to all American workers.

Forcing People To Work Sick

“Our nation is only as healthy as the most vulnerable among us,” said Wendy Chun-Hoon, executive director of Family Values @ Work and an executive team member of the Paid Leave for All campaign. “We cannot stop a pandemic if we force people to come to work sick. Walmart has gotten away with denying sick leave, artificially keeping [employee] work hours down, for years.”

Despite increasing deaths and more confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide — the country’s chief executive, on March 22, sent out a tweet saying, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!”

Trump has since made further declarations indicating his administration’s eagerness to drop the social distancing Americans have been practicing the last couple of weeks to quell the economic impact of the coronavirus.

“Yeah — no. That’s not gonna work,” Moody said. “You can’t beat this thing without social distancing. If you want to ease back into it and let everybody go back to work — then just be prepared to get right back onto lockdown.”

Neither Walmart or Amazon responded to requests for comment.

‘Sanitize The Registers’

“Shut down,” a frustrated Murray continued. “Sanitize these registers, these keypads where people stick in their debit cards. What about the baskets? Sanitize them.”

According to Moody, three people from the nightshift where she works have already tested positive for COVID-19.

“I understand we’re the frontline and people are depending on us, [but] we’re human, too,” she said. “We need to be safe, too. Shut it down quick for two weeks and I’ll feel a lot safer going to work. I’m not asking for a permanent closing — I’m asking for it to be cleaned and safe for me to go to work.”

At $11.44 an hour, Arreola says she barely earns enough to put food on her table — let alone stock up for an emergency like the patrons who have stripped grocery and drug store shelves across the country.

“We’re making sure Walmart customers have everything they need — but who’s looking out for us?” she said. “We have to do this before it’s too late.”

Joe Maniscalco is a Brooklyn-based journalist who has spent the last decade covering labor unions and workplace justice issues.

Biden Tells Trump: ‘Do Your Job, Stop Personalizing Everything’

During a CNN town hall on Friday night, former Vice President Joe Biden had a stern message for Donald Trump about his attacks on governors pleading for help from the federal government.

“This is not personal,” Biden said. “It has nothing to do with you, Donald Trump. Nothing to do with you. Do your job. Stop personalizing everything.”

Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Democratic governors who have criticized the federal government’s slow response to the coronavirus. On Twitter, in interviews, and during his daily press briefings, he has said that some governors — he often does not bother to name them — complain too much, have not done enough, and have not demonstrated sufficient appreciation for his efforts.

During a Thursday night phone interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump targeted Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, though he apparently could not remember her name.

“She’s not stepping up,” Trump said to Hannity. “All she does is sit there and blame the federal government. She doesn’t get it done. And we send her a lot.”

He added that she is “a new governor, and it’s not been pleasant.”

During his Friday press briefing, Trump was asked specifically what more he thinks certain governors should be doing for their states.

“I want them to be appreciative,” Trump said.

He said that he had also instructed Vice President Mike Pence not to even return phone calls from governors Trump considers insufficiently appreciative, including Whitmer and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

“If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,” Trump said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.