Billions for Boeing; pennies for people, by Julianne Malveaux

4/2/2020, 6 p.m.
The development of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package was extremely flawed.
Julianne Malveaux

The development of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package was extremely flawed.

The Republican bullies in the U.S. Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, wrote the bill with absolutely no Democratic input, then suggested that Democrats amend their legislation. The first draft of the bill, unsurprisingly, was a goody grab for corporations, with much less for individuals.

Initially, the Republican Senate would have given U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin a slush fund of $500 billion to assist troubled industries with absolutely no oversight. The last version of the bill includes both monitoring and an inspector general to look for fraud and abuse.

Republicans would have doled the money out to their cronies. But the Dems, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, stood their ground.

The stimulus legislation is better than the 2008-2009 bailout legislation. It is gratifying to see that the Senate rose above partisanship to get this done. Republicans even conceded that President Trump, his grafter family, other cabinet heads and senior leaders, along with their families, cannot benefit from this stimulus legislation.

It is unfathomable that this provision has to be put in writing, but No. 45, a hotel owner, pushed hard for hotels and cruise ships to get bailout benefits. But some in Congress have apparently peeped No. 45’s hole card. It takes extreme hubris for our nation’s chief executive treasury as a piggy bank, to be as self-serving as No. 45 is. Good for Democrats for recognizing the pattern of double-dealings makes it clear that written prohibition of these shady practices is necessary.

Michigan Congressman Justin Amash, an independent who used to be a Republican, tweeted, “This bipartisan deal is a raw deal for the people. It does far too little for those who need the most help while providing hundreds of billions in corporate welfare, massively growing government, inhibiting economic adaptation, and widening the gap between the rich and the poor.”

The legislation, which was approved by the House and signed into law by President Trump last Friday, is hundreds, if not thousands, of pages long. And it has lots of fine print. For example, $17 billion in loan funds are set aside for “businesses deemed critical to maintaining national security.

While Boeing isn’t mentioned by name, the Washington Post quoted a confidential source who said this money is partly set aside for Boeing. This is the same Boeing that manufactured faulty, crashing airplanes. And they’ve imperiously said they will take assistance only on their terms.

Some think the federal government should take an equity stake in companies that get bailout funds. Boeing’s CEO said he wasn’t interested in such a deal. If the feds wanted to play hardball, they’d force Boeing into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy doesn’t mean the cessation of operations; it means the restructuring of debt.

Meanwhile, there’s no helpful fine print for ordinary people. Sure, people will get $1,200 checks, plus $500 per child. That’s better than nothing. But compared to Boeing’s billions, it’s pennies.

The ability to get unemployment insurance for extra weeks also will be helpful for those who lose their jobs during this pandemic. More food stamp funds will be available. But there is some confusion over whether gig workers will get the benefit. Instead, it seems that those who have good jobs will get great benefits, while those who have part-time jobs, gig jobs or are unemployed won’t get much. As Congressman Amash said, this stimulus package will widen the wealth gap.

Inequality is at the very foundation of our economic system, so it isn’t surprising that the coronavirus stimulus package reflects the biases that are hard- wired into our system. We need committed, vocal, progressive members of Congress, such as Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Ayanna Pressley, Bobby Scott, Alezandria Ocasio Cortez and others, to shine a bright light on this inequality and to develop legislation to address some of these inequalities.

On March 23, Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York introduced HR 6379, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, that provides protections for workers and families mostly because the stimulus package does not.

Stimulate the economy if you will, but don’t ignore the people on the bottom. If we are injecting $2.2 trillion into our lagging economy, make sure that some of it trickles down to the poor.

The writer is an economist, educator and author.