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“Total System Failure”: Congress Pushes $2 Trillion Pandemic Bill. Will Dems Allow “Corporate Coup”?

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We continue our look at the massive $2 trillion coronavirus relief package — the largest stimulus bill in U.S. history — with author Matt Stoller, who argues the country will be unrecognizable after this pandemic if big corporations walk away with trillions of dollars and no strings attached. Stoller is research director at the American Economic Liberties Project and author of the book “Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.” His recent column for The Guardian is headlined “The coronavirus relief bill could turn into a corporate coup if we aren’t careful.”

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StoryDec 21, 2020Bernie Sanders: COVID Relief Package Is “Totally Inadequate” for “Unprecedented” Economic Crisis
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States, from New York City, as we continue our look at the massive $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, the largest stimulus bill in U.S. history, with a guest who argues the country will be unrecognizable after this pandemic if big corporations walk away with trillions of dollars and no strings attached. Joining us via video stream is Matt Stoller, as so many guests are representing, are self-isolating in their homes to protect the larger community and themselves. Matt Stoller, research director at the American Economic Liberties Project, author of the book _Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.” His column for The Guardian is headlined “The coronavirus relief bill could turn into a corporate coup if we aren’t careful.”

So, the House is clearly passing this unprecedented $2.2 trillion bill today. Matt, what are your concerns?

MATT STOLLER: Well, I mean, it’s not really a $2 trillion bill. It’s more like a $6 trillion to $10 trillion bill. So, one of the reasons you can tell that the bill is packed with corporate goodies is that, you know, Congress is debating and trying to figure out, oh, you know, is it $2 trillion, a bunch of money for hospitals or money for cities, and meanwhile, a couple days ago, Larry Kudlow is on a press conference and says, “Actually, this is a $6 trillion bill.” And it’s like, how does a bill go from $2 trillion to $6 trillion without anyone really noticing? And the answer is, there’s a bunch of stuff in there — and, you know, there are people on Wall Street chattering about how it’s actually going to be $10 trillion, because, you know, what’s another four? And that’s how you know that the bill is just packed with stuff for Wall Street, for large monopolists.

And it’s done through a variety of opaque slush funds — the Federal Reserve, the FDIC guarantees a bank debt. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that, you know, some of us who worked in the financial crisis noticed, paid attention to, said, “Oh, that’s where they’re stealing all the money.” And so there’s a bunch of stuff in there that’s going to get to Boeing and airlines, that we know about, has been reported. There’s also a bunch of stuff that’s going to get to the hedge fund guys that are bunkering down in their underground wine caves or whatever. And meanwhile, the stuff that we need, for normal people — the ventilators, the unemployment — you know, that’s going to dribble out. Small business is going to dribble out.

And so, what you’re going to see is the $4 trillion to $6 trillion to $8 trillion of basically no-cost or low-cost guaranteed credit is going to be used by Citibank, JPMorgan, and then any big monopolist or large company that can get access to it, to buy up their competitors and buy up small business, who are obviously now in a really distressed state because they don’t have any revenue. So that’s what’s going to happen. And I look forward to all of the progressives who are supporting this, like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, supporting a wealth tax later on for all the wealth that they are right now transferring to Wall Street. That will be fun.

AMY GOODMAN: CNBC’s Jim Cramer said last Friday the economic downturn from the pandemic could leave the United States with just three retailers after the crisis ends.

MATT STOLLER: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: This is what he said.

JIM CRAMER: We come out of this sooner, then other small businesses can open. If we come out of this later, David, there’s going to be three retailers in this country. There’s going to be Amazon, there’s going to be Walmart, and there’s going to be Costco. And that is something that the government cannot afford to have happen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Matt Stoller, if you can respond to what Cramer said? While President Trump stands at the White House podium saying, “We’re spending much more time concerned about small business than big business,” he didn’t say, “We’re spending much more money concerned about small business than big business.”

MATT STOLLER: I don’t think that this is actually — I don’t want to leave this on Trump. Honestly, this is the fault of the Democrats, this is the fault of Nancy Pelosi, it’s the fault of members like Ilhan Omar, who just spoke about this, not paying attention to what’s in the bill. It’s the fault of Bernie Sanders. It’s the fault of Elizabeth Warren. These are the people that had leverage, that had the ability to make an argument about what this bill is. And instead of saying that this bill is a handout to corporate America and a roll-up of power, they decided to stay quiet, let Chuck Schumer organize the whole process, you know, and do some moral grandstanding. And it’s really embarrassing, and it’s really a problem, because they’re lying to the progressive movement, they’re lying to the Democratic Party. And so now we have no debate about what is effectively probably a more significant bill than TARP in 2008.

And all of this stuff that’s happening, the handover of power to Wall Street, is happening under the really cynical guise of helping people in a pandemic. A lot of this money is going to go to — some of the money is going to go to hospitals. Some of the money is going to go to help people in the pandemic. So there’s some good stuff here. That, of course, is going to dribble out on the rickety infrastructure of the Small Business Administration and unemployment insurance. Our government has been hollowed out, so this stuff isn’t going to get out quickly, but — quickly enough.

But I think we really have to take some responsibility as Democrats — I’m a Democrat — as progressives, as conservatives, as Republicans. You know, this is a total system failure. This is a handover of power to Wall Street. And in a month or two or three, people are going to get confused. They’re going to say, “Wait a second. Why isn’t this working? What’s happening?” And like, this is the moment. The moment was this week, when the House and Senate are voting on it. And you have a whole bunch of largely clueless, either stupid, corrupt or cowardly members, who won’t actually look at what’s in the bill, won’t organize, won’t think about it, won’t debate. And so they’ve handed over — you know, I didn’t think that Bernie Sanders was going to hand the country over to big business, but that is effectively what he did. I didn’t think Elizabeth Warren was going to do that, but that is effectively what she did.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re attributing a lot of power to them.

MATT STOLLER: Absolutely. The leverage point here was about the public debate. Last week, when Mitch McConnell was coming up with a bill — you know, and I wrote about this, but others wrote about it —

AMY GOODMAN: Not including the Democrats in this.

MATT STOLLER: Well, yeah, but the Democrats didn’t make an argument about what was in that bill. They said, “Oh, OK, trillions of dollars for Wall Street, sure, we’ll call that pandemic relief,” instead of saying, “That’s trillions of dollars for Wall Street. What we need is immediate pandemic relief.” Instead, they conceded to Mitch McConnell and Steve Mnuchin that giving a trillion, $2 trillion, $3 trillion, $4 trillion to Wall Street was pandemic relief. And that’s just nonsense. And even today they’re not saying what is in this bill. They don’t even know that the bill is $6 trillion versus $2 trillion. I mean, the whole thing is just embarrassing and dishonest. Now, I could see them saying, “Yeah, you know, it is a $6 trillion bill” — I mean, I’ll also say, I have to — you know, we have to get money out to hospitals. We have to get money out to small business. We have to get money out to ordinary people that are suffering right now. It’s a real — we have to do it. And it will happen. If the Democrats had gotten together and blocked this bill, then, you know, Mitch McConnell and Mnuchin and Kevin McCarthy and Trump would have had no choice but to accept any deal that the Democrats put on the table.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me play presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaking Wednesday night about the unprecedented, well, more than $2 trillion emergency relief bill.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I am very, very, very concerned about a $500 billion that will go out to the corporate world without — let me underline, without — the accountability and transparency that is needed. We do not need, at this moment in history, to provide a massive amount of corporate welfare to large profitable corporations. I think as many of you are aware, you have industry like the — industries like the airlines industry, among others, that have provided for stock buybacks, billions and billions of dollars for stock buybacks. They spent all their cash rewarding themselves and their stockholders. And lo and behold, today they need a major bailout.

So, the concern here is: A, do we trust the Trump administration to effectively decide which company will get the loans or the grants? The answer is, no, I do not. Do we think that these loans and grants during a political season will be used to benefit the president’s election prospects? Absolutely, I do.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Matt Stoller, that’s Bernie Sanders. I also want to ask about the 0% interest loans, then buy bonds and stocks that yield 2 to 6% interest. Who gets to do this?

MATT STOLLER: So, first of all, that $500 billion that Bernie was talking about, it’s actually more like $4.5 trillion. So, just an FYI.

If you have — basically, if you have an account at a large bank, if you’re a wealthy investor like Goldman Sachs, there’s a whole set of programs that you can get access to at the Federal Reserve — at least this was the case in 2008, and the Fed says they’re setting up similar structures — where you can borrow from the Fed, and you can gamble with it. And then, if you lose — right? — in your gambling, then the Fed will — you don’t have to pay the loan back to the Fed. So, that’s one of the — you know, and this is one of the programs they say, “Oh, we need to provide liquidity in the markets,” or various other really super boring things that sound like — you kind of go to sleep when you’re like, “Oh, all these alphabet soup programs and all this kind of jargon.” But that’s really what it is. It’s just, you know, “heads, I win; tails, you lose.” And that’s a lot of what these programs are.

I mean, the Fed has already hired BlackRock, which is one of the world’s largest asset managers, to manage this multitrillion-dollar bailout, and they’ve said that BlackRock is going to be allowed to participate in the bailout. So they’re running the bailout, and they’re participating in the bailout. They’re already stealing, before the vote, the bill has even passed the House.

I mean, this is just like, for most of — for a lot of us who worked in the financial crisis, this is just embarrassing. It’s a bad joke to watch it go through with like literally no opposition from anyone in power. And I’m sorry, but Bernie Sanders getting up and grandstanding about an unemployment provision that he didn’t negotiate, that was going to die anyway, that’s embarrassing, and it’s dishonest, and he shouldn’t lie to his supporters like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Matt Stoller, we’re going to do a post-show with you and continue the discussion and particularly look at something that no one is paying attention to in the coronavirus pandemic, and that is the issue of a decision around — the Supreme Court making around Comcast and racial discrimination.


AMY GOODMAN: You’ve written a lot about this. But we’ll do that and post it at democracynow.org. Matt Stoller, research director at the American Economic Liberties Project, author of the book Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.

When we come back, we’ll look at what sheltering in place means when you’re forced to stay with your abuser. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s Andrew David singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to the empty streets of Chicago in a video shared on social media.

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