March 25, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
We’re Going to Trust Trump with $2T?
Prepare for friends rewarded and enemies punished.
There was big news this morning. Party leaders in the Senate said they have agreed on a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at stabilizing an economy wobbling through the effects of the new coronavirus outbreak. Bipartisanship is indeed something to cheer. Still, in today’s Washington, Nancy Pelosi will have the final word. According to reporting in Roll Call, the House Speaker signaled she might—again—hit the brakes.
It’s not clear how much impact the legislation will have, if it has any. Yes, two trillion dollars is a very, very big number, as is another four trillion dollars of unlimited “quantitative easing” announced this week by the Federal Reserve. But I don’t think anyone truly knows what those numbers, however big they are, can do to counteract the damage being done by an outbreak that’s idling as much as half the workforce.
Red states get follow-through. Blue states don’t.
At the same time, the president seems convinced this is all the stimulus the economy will need. Donald Trump said last week he directed the Treasury secretary, who has been the administration’s lead negotiator, to “go big” so the president wouldn’t later on have to keep tapping the Congress for even more money. Furthermore, he seems convinced the pandemic isn’t so bad that people can’t start going back to work. Despite concerns of medical authorities, policy experts and even other GOP leaders, such as Lindsey Graham, Trump said he wants America “reopened” by Easter.
I’ll have more to say about that in a moment. For now, let’s assume Pelosi gives her blessing. What then? In our system of government, in which powers are separated, the legislative branch writes law and the executive branch enforces it. With respect to spending, the former allocates funding and the latter distributes it, according to the will of the US Congress, which is a representation of the will of the American people.
Well, there’s your problem.
While individual members of the Congress can pat themselves on the back for doing what needed to be done in the face of a national public health emergency, they all of them still have to trust Trump to behave like all Americans matter equally. They all of them still have to trust this president to act not in his own interest, or the interest of his friends, but in the nation’s interest. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust him to walk my dog.
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There’s already suspicion that the administration is being partial in distributing medical supplies to states. Florida, for instance, got everything it requested while New York got nothing. Moreover, three states Trump has recognized as coronavirus disaster areas have not gotten the unemployment assistance that goes with such a designation. According to Politico, New York, California and Washington state are still waiting.
You see a pattern. Red states get follow-through. Blue states don’t. What we’re seeing is a repeat of the president’s conduct in the aftermath of Hurricanes Maria and Harvey. One devastated Texas. Donald Trump to the rescue! One devastated Puerto Rico. Meh.
We’re seeing the rise of a much larger problem, though. This president can do virtually anything with public money that’s allocated by the Congress, because the Congress failed to hold him accountable after he did what he wanted with public money.
The Congress allocated tens of millions in military aid for Ukraine. Trump, however, didn’t distribute it. He used it to extort that country’s president into sabotaging Joe Biden. Withholding the money was illegal. Trump violated federal statute. But the Senate acquitted him of wrongdoing, and in doing so, it set a precedent. The executive branch might or might not distribute future public money as intended by the Congress. It’s free to distribute it in the executive’s interest, not in the nation’s.
“Reopening the country” falls on governors whom Trump is ready to punish for making him look bad when they shut down their states in pandemic.
What’s more, there’s nothing the Congress can do. The House Democrats impeached the president for obstructing the constitutional authority of the Congress. (That was the second of two articles of impeachment tried in the Senate.) Trump’s acquittal, however, means he can obstruct to his heart’s content. The Senate Republicans won’t stop him. If he favors red states in distributing $2 trillion, well, so much the better.
As for “reopening the country,” that’s rhetoric aimed at governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo who are doing the right thing in shutting down their states amid a global pandemic. We know this because “reopening the country” does not include lifting international travel bans and other things that are under a president’s authority. “Reopening the country” falls on governors whom Trump is prepared to punish for making him look bad when they shut down their states amid a global pandemic.
It’s not hard to imagine residents of Trump-friendly red states getting their $2,000 checks, their unemployment benefits, their cheap business loans and other goodies congressional Democrats fought hard for in negotiating $2 trillion in stimulus.
It’s not hard to imagine residents of blue states waiting, and waiting. It’s the kind of thing I’ve come expect from a president who got away with betraying his country.