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Coronavirus Relief Bills Bail Out Corporations as Small Businesses & Workers Suffer

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As the White House and Democrats near a deal on a $450 billion coronavirus relief package, members of the Progressive Caucus say it bails out businesses once again and fails to protect working people. “In general, there’s been kind of a disproportionate response that is reflected in the CARES Act. For individuals, for small businesses, it’s very hard to get relief,” says The American Prospect’s executive editor, David Dayen. “But if you’re a big corporation, the Federal Reserve has $4.5 trillion in reserves ready for you.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Democrats are closing in on a deal with the White House for a $450 billion relief package to address the ongoing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, even as progressives say that it bails out businesses without protecting working people. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says that bill allocates an additional $350 billion of relief for small business, after funds for small business in last month’s emergency act were quickly depleted. In a concession to Democrats, the new relief package also includes $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion for testing. At Monday’s Coronavirus Task Force meeting, Trump suggested demands for testing and ventilators are part of a political conspiracy against him.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Remember, it was all ventilators. And the reason it was all ventilators, they said, “There’s no way he’ll ever be able to catch this one.” And not only did we catch it, we are now the king of ventilators all over the world. We can send them anywhere. We have thousands being made a week, and they’re very high quality. And that wasn’t playing well, so then they said, “Testing, testing. Oh, we’ll get him on testing.” Well, testing is much easier than ventilators.

AMY GOODMAN: As Trump attacks testing, members of the Progressive Caucus are attacking the new stimulus bill for failing to include measures like rent cancellation, hazard pay, funding for the Postal Service and vote-by-mail, and healthcare expansions. This is Democratic Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking at a virtual news conference Monday.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Incrementalism is not helpful in this moment. It’s not helpful. For people to say, “Oh, well, we got something, so we might as well support it. You know, we got a nickel, we got a dime, in a trillion-dollar bill, so a nickel is more than nothing, so we should support it,” is unacceptable.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by the executive editor of The American Prospect, David Dayen. He writes a must-read daily update on the pandemic called “Unsanitized.”

David, welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us what’s happening here in this latest bailout package. Who’s getting bailed out, and who isn’t?

DAVID DAYEN: So, this is the — they’re calling it the interim package, in between the last really big one, the CARES Act, and then what they’re calling CARES Act 2. So I guess you call it CARES Act 1.5. And mostly this replenishes the small business fund to give out these forgivable loans. There’s also $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion to surge testing. However, as you mentioned, it does not add all of these important priorities, like vote by mail, like hazard pay, like helping the post office survive, that progressives have been calling for for some time. And so, you know, there’s a question of: Why do you keep giving Republicans the thing that they want, whether it’s a giant corporate bailout or this continued money into the small business fund, when the Democratic priorities are left on the table?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, David Dayen, I wanted to ask you — you wrote recently about the naming of Donna Shalala to head the bailout oversight panel. Nancy Pelosi named her, even though she’s clearly conflicted in terms of her own private investments and even though she has virtually no experience in this kind of oversight. Could you talk about the meaning of this, coming from the Democrats, to name someone like Donna Shalala in charge of seeing how this money is being spent?

DAVID DAYEN: Sure. So, Shalala is a Pelosi loyalist. She’s on the Rules Committee. And that’s a tell, that she’s someone who backs Pelosi 100%. As you mentioned, you know, Shalala was the health and human services secretary under President Clinton, but this particular bailout oversight panel is really about looking at Federal Reserve lending programs. You know, if you were on the Financial Services Committee, if you were on the Oversight Committee, that might be an important position where you would have a lot of experience. Shalala really doesn’t have this sort of history with financial services that you would expect.

Now, I did notice in her last disclosure form that she listed a great number of individual stock holdings in businesses like Boeing and Alaska Airlines and lots of oil companies, lots of banks, that might be in line for a bailout. Now, Shalala told the Miami Herald yesterday that she has sold those stocks, said she sold some of them up to over a year ago. However, there was never any disclosure of that, which, if true, would violate the STOCK Act, which forces disclosure of any transactions by members of Congress within 45 days. So, I’m trying to get to the bottom of that.

But I think what it signals is that Pelosi wants someone that is personally loyal to her on this panel, and expertise at actually conducting the oversight that’s needed to make sure that this money is being spent properly is a secondary consideration.

AMY GOODMAN: David Dayen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Progressive Caucus say they’re not going to support this stimulus package. And if you can, overall, talk about who has benefited so far, when we hear about Ruth’s Chris Steak House getting $20 million, and other companies in the small business part of things, and also the banks? And we only have a minute or two.

DAVID DAYEN: Sure. I mean, there were about 80 publicly traded companies that received these small business forgivable loans in the small business program, that includes Ruth’s Chris and a number of others. You know, in general, smaller businesses were able to get some support, but you’re talking about banks who were able to get billions of dollars in processing fees under that loan program without having to do a whole heck of a lot.

And in general, there’s been kind of a disproportionate response that is reflected in the CARES Act. You know, for individuals, for small businesses, it’s very hard to get relief. Individuals risk having their individual checks taken and garnished by banks. The unemployment program, it’s hard to get unemployment insurance. But if you’re a big corporation, the Federal Reserve has $4.5 trillion in reserves ready for you. So, where you stand in America and where you stand in this bill depends really on your power and influence.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you for being with us, David Dayen. We’ll be visiting you again in the coming days. executive editor of The American Prospect, where he writes a daily update on the pandemic called “Unsanitized.”

When we come back, why are women in detention, in immigration detention, being pepper-sprayed in the midst of this COVID pandemic, let alone any other time? Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Let My People Go,” sung by members of groups who are demanding New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio release people from jail and immigration detention amidst this pandemic.

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