There were some frustrating partisan squabbles along the way, but the relief that American workers need to help them through the coronavirus pandemic is finally arriving.
After more than a week of bickering and partisan grandstanding — not to mention some disruptive eleventh-hour theatrics — the biggest relief package in American history reached the president’s desk and immediately received his signature.
The centerpiece of the legislation, which President Donald Trump’s economic team worked closely with congressional leaders to craft, includes direct payments to middle- and lower-income Americans, which will provide $1,200 to most American adults, along with $500 for each child in a household. The first of those payments have already begun arriving in people’s bank accounts, providing a much-needed financial buffer for struggling families all over the country.
Additionally, to assist those who lost jobs due to the unforeseeable economic stagnation brought on by the pandemic, unemployment benefits will be increased by $600 per week and extended for four additional months.
Just as importantly, the relief package ensures that workers will have jobs to go back to once this crisis is over, providing hundreds of billions of dollars in low-interest loans to keep businesses afloat through this temporary economic shutdown — loans that will be forgiven if companies take adequate steps to guarantee the welfare of their employees. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is so popular that Congress is already debating allocating an additional $250 billion to it as the first round of funding begins to run out.
This is exactly what Wisconsin — and the nation — needs right now. Although the Badger State isn’t among the hardest-hit states at this point — and God willing it never will be — Wisconsinites face the same economic challenges as every other American in this uncertain and trying time. In fact, Wisconsin ranks 10th in the nation in terms of PPP money received.
As the president has said, we cannot allow the measures we take to slow the spread of COVID-19 to cause more pain than the disease itself. If Wisconsinites who lose their jobs are unable to pay the bills or put food on the table, or if businesses that have had to temporarily close up shop are forced to shut down permanently, then our self-inflicted suffering and death will ultimately exceed anything the coronavirus is capable of doing to us. By taking the necessary steps to protect workers and business now, we can shore up our economy in anticipation of a rapid resurgence and minimize the financial misery caused by the pandemic
It’s no mystery how we got such a historic deal passed so quickly, even in an age of particularly intense partisanship: President Trump’s leadership has provided a calming and unifying force throughout this crisis that even his most vociferous opponents have acknowledged.
For weeks, the president has held daily press conferences to keep the American people informed, united, and confident as we face this crisis, patiently answering questions from the press alongside his team of world-class experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Meanwhile, his economic team has worked tirelessly behind the scenes to negotiate the relief package that will ensure America’s economy bounces back quickly once we defeat the invisible enemy, and they’re now starting to map out the recovery plan once we start to pass hurdles with the slowing of the spread of the virus.
Presidential leadership made the difference when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cynically tried to exploit public fears to advance their stalled partisan agenda. House Majority Whip James Clyburn reportedly saw this pandemic as “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” but that attitude didn’t last long under the president’s withering glare. He didn’t spare recalcitrant Republicans from his ire, either, going so far as to recommend that Representative Thomas Massie be expelled from the GOP after the libertarian-leaning congressman threatened to use procedural gimmicks to delay passage of the emergency relief legislation.
The American people are responding positively to President Trump’s leadership, as well. Since leading the federal government’s pandemic response, the president’s approval has climbed dramatically, with several polls showing him at his highest approval rating since taking office and 61 percent of Americans approving of his management of this crisis.
The American people, whatever their partisan leanings, know this is not a time for partisanship. It’s a time for leadership; it’s a time for unity; and it’s a time to take historic action to minimize the financial and health consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.
Robert W. Kasten is a former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.