Congress strikes a deal.
Plus, a question about members are so wealthy.
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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Congress strikes a deal, a question about why members are so wealthy and an important story about Chinese disinformation.
Photo: Mitch McConnell | Gage Skidmore
Yesterday, I said that “It’s been 17 days since I last interacted with anyone other than my fiancé, who I live with.” Turns out, that’s actually not true. We had three friends over two weekends ago, and in my head, it’s felt so long since then that I thought it was 17 days ago and not 10 days. Thank you, to my eagle-eyed readers, for making me realize I’ve only been stuck in isolation for 58% as long as I’d thought.
The president tweets.
Breitbart News @BreitbartNewsMitt Romney Tests Negative for Coronavirus https://t.co/GITGAlVe20
What D.C. is talking about.
Lawmakers say they have agreed to a deal with the White House for a $2 trillion stimulus package designed to help stave off the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. Negotiations on the bill came to an end early Wednesday morning and staffers are still drafting the final bill. “This is a wartime level of investment into our nation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said. “The men and women of the greatest country on Earth are going to defeat this coronavirus and reclaim our future. And the Senate is going to make sure they have the ammunition they need to do it.” The bill will provide direct checks of $1,200 to millions of Americans, will drastically expand unemployment insurance, give billions of dollars to health care providers and offer hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to large and small businesses. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said President Trump would “absolutely” sign the bill and that “he’s very pleased” with how it came out. Still, the bill needs to pass the House of Representatives before it goes to Trump’s desk for a signature. That’s no guarantee. Because the House is out on recess, Nancy Pelosi wants to bring the bill in under unanimous consent, which requires just two members to be present and unanimous support for the bill. But some legislators in the House have already voiced opposition to the bill, including Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). At the same time, the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is now on a trajectory to be worse than anywhere else in the world.
What the left is saying.
We got what we wanted and it was worth the delay. Sen. Chuck Schumer says they’ve picked up an extra month of unemployment insurance for Americans, $55 billion more in funding for hospitals, $150 billion more for states, localities, and tribes and billions more in Small Business Association grants of up to $10,000. He also says Democrats secured a provision that prevents businesses controlled by Donald Trump, the Vice President and members of Congress from receiving or directing treasury department loans. There was also $25 billion in transit funding, which will be a major boon for New York City. Members also added $30 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. The bill will also provide workers an additional $600 in unemployment a week for four months, on top of what state programs pay, and will give support to “gig economy” workers — though the finer details of that support are still being worked out. The $500 billion dollar fund with $425 billion for the Federal Reserve to give out in loans will now have stricter oversight in the form of an inspector general and a 5-person panel appointed by Congress. Some House members, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are still not sold. She said the “vague” bill has half a trillion dollars in corporate bailouts and not enough worker protections.
What the right is saying.
It’s all smoke and mirrors. This all could have been done by now. Democrats tried their best to stuff a bunch of junk into the bill — like Green New Deal provisions to limit emissions from flights — and ended up with a marginally different piece of legislation that’s coming out two days later than it should have. Now we have to wait for the House to read and vote on the bill, which could take a whole additional day. While Democrats pushed for a dramatic food stamp benefits increase, Republicans secured billions more in funding for a farm bailout ($30 billion to $50 billion). Republicans also fought for a more friendly version of the bill for airlines, which Democrats wanted to back into a corner on emission standards. "Reading Chuck Schumer's list, I half expected that the next thing I read would be the Minority Leader taking credit for inventing fire,” a GOP aide told Fox News. “The reality is that almost every significant 'win' he's taking credit for, is actually a Senate Republican idea." Republicans say they never objected to more hospital funding or oversight of the stimulus fund. They say the only real material change was three months to four months of unemployment, something that didn’t get much of a fight when it was proposed. "To sum up, Senator Schumer delayed life-saving aid to medical professionals and significant relief for families and small businesses in order to claim credit for wins that are either bipartisan or Republican ideas," the aide added.
This is far from over. The headlines are all blaring the news that the bill is a done deal, or that negotiations are over, but I’ve got that funny feeling we could be another day or two away. With the House out on recess, and with some members sick or in quarantine, there will need to be procedural trickery to get the vote done. Unanimous consent is the most widely floated and obvious idea — but it requires unanimous consent. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Justin Amash both seem to think workers are getting chibbed in this deal, and each has demonstrated a stubbornness strong enough to blow a vote up even with this much at stake. I’m not sure Democrats or Republicans have a second move if they can’t pass the bill by unanimous consent, other than asking members to fly back to D.C. That could take a day in itself, and then things get tricky depending on who actually flies back. Remember: the Senate still hasn’t released a draft of the bill publicly, which means at best the members in the House are just getting a chance to read it now.
As for whether this wait was worth it: I think it will be. Democrats and Republicans will both scream about petty politics during a time of crisis but each side is going to play petty politics during a time of crisis. I was skeptical on Monday and Tuesday and I wrote that Democrats were committing political suicide if they didn’t make major gains in this bill. In my opinion, an extra month of unemployment benefits and legitimate oversight on Trump and corporate companies getting bailouts is worth that wait (for the left’s base, and for me personally). I need to see more details on the corporate bailout oversight before I give it a passing grade or not, but it seems both sides agree that the negotiations over the last day or two brought those things to fruition. And remember: this isn’t it. Phase 4 and Phase 5 bills are already rumored on the hill, and its possible unemployment insurance could get another injection of funding, as could the airlines and the postal service.
Your questions, answered.
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Q: How and why are congresspeople so wealthy? You said that Burr was on the low end of net worth, at about $1.7 million. A quick Google search shows me that congresspeople make around $175k/year. That's obviously nothing to scoff at, but surely there's other stuff going on to get a net worth of 1.7 million or more? Is it good to have such a homogenous group of people, from a wealth perspective, making important decisions? How can people in their shoes possibly be able to think about the typical working class of America they're supposed to represent?
- Sean, New York, NY
Tangle: The first and perhaps most important answer to your question is just the elimination game. There are certain inherent characteristics about Congress that make it a lot wealthier than average Americas. Perhaps most obviously, it takes a lot of money to run a successful campaign in politics, especially if you’re running for something in the federal government. For most candidates running for Congress, there is at least some kind of wealth or money already there. Members like Rep. Joe Kennedy or senators like John McCain, Jay Rockefeller or Claire McCaskill all inherited vast family estates.
The other obvious point is that, for a long time, members of Congress have been older white men. Demographically speaking, there’s no group of Americans more likely to have a large amount of wealth than that group. Regardless of your politics, this is the reality that made the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez such a media firestorm: she was a young Latina woman who came from a truly middle-class family and had spent years leading up to her election working as a bartender. That kind of thing is basically unheard of.
Once they’re in Congress, the answer is just as shady and unfortunate as you might imagine. Members of Congress acquire vast connections to wealthy donors, investors, corporations and moneymakers. Most of them use those connections. In a 2014 analysis, The Atlantic found that most members of Congress do not draw the bulk of their income from a paycheck. In 2010, “more than 150 lawmakers reported earning more from outside investments than from their congressional salary, which for a rank-and-file House or Senate member is $174,000.” If you’re making $174,000 a year, which is nearly six times as much as the American median income ($31,000), and that’s your secondary income — there’s a reason these members are so much wealthier than most Americans. Conspicuously, as I wrote here in early February, members of Congress are riddled with conflicts of interest and see abnormally high returns on their investments, far outpacing typical Americans. And, as we found out this week, the reason for that is probably because some are participating in insider trading.
Finally, to the wealth point, many members serve for decades. If you’re receiving a 6-figure salary for 30 years and make smart, conservative investments you are going to end up accruing a lot of wealth. That’s just how the American economy is built.
To your question about whether it’s good these people are making decisions that shape the nation, my answer is unequivocal: no.
Wealth disparity isn’t just a part of capitalism, it’s a part of a society where the people at the top of the economic ladder make financial decisions and legislative decisions that shape the nation. This is, perhaps, the part of the “Bernie Sanders stump speech” that resonates with me the most. Most members of Congress are wildly out of touch with what life is like for average Americans, and if they’re on the moon our current president is on Mars. That’s why, in 2015, 79% of Americans said Congress was out of touch with Americans and 68% said it was focused on special interests.
Just go back to the raw numbers I pointed out: the median income in America is $31,000 versus the $174,000 base salary in Congress. It’s mind-boggling. The median net worth of members is 12 times higher than the net worth of the median U.S. household. Of course, a poor American who was elected to Congress would suddenly be sucked into this median income by immediately making a Congressional salary. The answer isn’t to make sure members make less; it’s to make elections dictated by something other than money. Grassroots funding is growing in popularity and effectiveness, which is great to see, but publicly funded elections is an idea that has been floated and could be an answer to this problem. Ultimately, I think we’d be better off if there were more people in Congress who knew the experience of living on $30,000 a year. I’m not sure of the best way to get there, though.
Biden vs. Trump.
Yesterday, I showed you the kind of videos you can expect to see the right run against Joe Biden during the general election. Below you’ll find the kind of video Joe Biden’s team will be running against Trump.
A story that matters.
The Chinese government is taking a page out of the disinformation playbook and flooding the zone with conspiracy theories. In the last week, the Chinese Communist Party has had verified accounts on Twitter and Facebook throwing all sorts of stories against the wall to deflect blame for the spread of the coronavirus. It has blamed the U.S. military and claimed the virus started in a North Carolina lab. It has said the virus first appeared in Italy. It has stated in vague terms that the virus didn’t, in fact, come from Wuhan. In the meantime, the world’s best virologists say there is no indication the virus was manmade and seem to unanimously agree the first outbreak was in Wuhan. And journalists have meticulously reported the way the Chinese government covered up the spread of the virus. It should go without saying that Chinese or Asian people are not to blame for a global pandemic of a virus we’ve never seen, but it’s frightening to see the reach the Chinese government has on social media when it wants to spread disinformation. Axios has more details about how it’s flooding the zone here.
370,000. The total number of completed coronavirus tests in the U.S. so far, more than half of which have been taken in the last eight days.
14. The number of days anyone who has recently left New York City or plans to leave New York City has now been instructed to “self-quarantine.”
9. The total point lead Joe Biden currently holds over Donald Trump in 300 “swing counties” where the margin of victory was less than 10 points in the 2016 presidential race.
1. Hillary Clinton’s point lead in those same counties over Donald Trump in 2016.
60%. Donald Trump’s approval rating in his response to the coronavirus, according to Gallup.
49%. Donald Trump’s approval rating as president in the latest Gallup poll, the highest of his presidency.
20-30%. The loss in revenue for newspapers across the United States compared to this time one year ago.
40,000. The number of health care workers who have volunteered to help fight coronavirus in New York City alone.
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The coronavirus is not mutating quickly, health experts say, meaning a vaccine could be developed to fend off the virus for a long time. All viruses evolve, but the speed at which they evolve can make it difficult to create a lasting vaccine. Some experts have worried that multiple strains of coronavirus or the virus’s ability to mutate would leave experts flummoxed in creating a vaccine. But the latest research is encouraging. It could mean the vaccine would be more like the measles or chickenpox vaccine instead of a flu shot that you had to get every year. Click.