$2,000 Stimulus Checks Are Needed, Not More Austerity

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Source: Democracy Now!

President Trump has unexpectedly signed a $2.3 trillion spending package that includes a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. The bill includes direct payments of $600 for most adults, expanded unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, money for vaccine distribution and a temporary extension of a federal eviction ban. Millions were plunged into uncertainty over the holidays as Trump delayed signing the bill, allowing two unemployment programs to lapse. He is also demanding lawmakers amend the bill to give $2,000 in direct payments to most Americans, a proposal opposed by most Republicans but endorsed by Democratic leaders. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Trump is to blame for the delay, for the anxiety people had, and [Mitch] McConnell and Republicans are to blame for not having $2,000,” says Rep. Ro Khanna, Democratic congressmember from California.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

President Trump unexpectedly signed a $2.3 trillion spending package Sunday that includes a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. The bill includes direct payments of $600 for most adults, expanded unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses, money for vaccine distribution, and a temporary extension of a federal eviction ban. Millions were plunged into uncertainty over the holidays as Trump held up the signing of the bill while he vacationed and golfed in Florida. This allowed two unemployment programs to lapse Saturday night. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted Sunday night, “Never forget, his tantrums have real life consequences for millions of Americans. Since [unemployment insurance] expired Saturday, this delay will almost certainly postpone state unemployment payouts. I am so glad his days of inflicting pain are coming to an end,” she tweeted.

Last week, Trump blasted the bipartisan bill, describing it a “disgrace,” even though his own administration had helped negotiate the bill. Trump is demanding lawmakers amend the bill to give $2,000 in direct payments to most Americans — a proposal opposed by most Republicans but endorsed by Democrats. The Democratic-controlled House will vote on increasing payments to $2,000 today. Trump has also asked lawmakers to rescind parts of the bill, but the request is expected to be ignored.

The COVID relief package is part of a broader spending package that needed to be signed in order to avert a government shutdown. The broader bill includes a number of provisions endorsed by Republicans, including new tax breaks and nearly $1.4 billion for Trump’s border wall. In other congressional news, the House is scheduled to vote today to override Trump’s veto of a $740 billion defense bill.

We’re joined now by Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. Last night, he tweeted, “I am glad we are finally having a vote tomorrow on a $2000 stimulus. The question remains why we didn’t have this vote in March when @TimRyan and I proposed this. This is a lesson. It should not require permission from Trump or Republicans to vote on and push for bold policies.”

Congressman Khanna, welcome back to Democracy Now! That seems to me to be a clear message to the Democrats. Can you just explain what’s happened over this holiday weekend? Trump didn’t play ball with Congress at the beginning, but was certainly out there playing ball — playing golf through the weekend as unemployment lapsed, and then, out of the blue, without getting any concessions, he signed last night.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, that’s a fair summary. I mean, he was just playing politics here. He had no intention of actually pushing for $2,000. He never tried to get McConnell and the Republican senators on board. And Mnuchin, as you pointed out, never was advocating for that in the negotiations. So there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump is to blame for the delay, for the anxiety people had. And McConnell and the Republicans are to blame for not having $2,000.

That said, what I am saying is that Tim Ryan and I, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, many of us have been calling for $2,000 since March, April of this year. And we should not wait to have Republican support or Republican statements before voting on that. We need to make sure that when we’re advocating for working families, when we’re advocating for progressive policy, that we put that forward, have votes on that, and put pressure on the Republicans to do the right thing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain how this will work. Before he signed this bill last night, again, 24 hours earlier, unemployment wouldn’t have lapsed for many people. Now millions, perhaps 12 million people, are plunged into uncertainty. They might get it late. They might not get it for a week and will lose that forever. But before he did that, Nancy Pelosi called for voting on the amendment to get it to $2,000 today. Now, without changes, Trump has approved the legislation. What could possibly get this passed, not only in the House, but, do you believe, in the Senate?

REP. RO KHANNA: I think it’s an uphill battle to get it passed in the Senate. I mean, we’re going to vote tonight to have $2,000 checks, but McConnell has already indicated he is opposed to that. Cornyn has indicated that he’s opposed to that. So, what it would take is either Trump not just tweeting out but convincing Republican senators to support it, or a next administration, hopefully Joe Biden, making this a critical component of what we’re going to push for. But the obstacle has always been in the Senate.

AMY GOODMAN: There was word that Jon Ossoff in Georgia was demanding that David Perdue pull his ads saying that he had been part of passing this legislation, because then Trump didn’t sign off on it. Trump is expected to go to Georgia to campaign for the runoff elections next week, that that could have put pressure. Kevin McCarthy in the House, your colleague there, reportedly had a conversation with Trump yesterday. Who knows what caused this change? But what Trump said in signing this, to save face, because he got no changes but signed off on this bill, he said it’s because Congress had agreed to look into voter fraud, you know, the tremendous amount of voter fraud he alleges that took place that he has never proven, even when cases were brought to one after another Trump-appointed judges, not to mention the Supreme Court. What about this? And what about this legacy that Trump — this issue that Trump keeps pushing right through January 6, when he’s demanding calling for thousands to come to Washington, D.C., to challenge the final approval of the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?

REP. RO KHANNA: Amy, your analysis is absolutely correct. This had nothing to do with helping the American people. This was not a debate about whether we get $2,000 checks to working families. This was Trump upset with McConnell because McConnell is not willing to have senators challenge the results of the election, and McConnell has already congratulated Joe Biden. So Trump says, “Well, look, I can blow up this deal. And I actually cost you those Georgia races if I blow up this deal, because that’s going to hurt Perdue and Loeffler in their races.”

And I think behind the scenes you had McConnell and McCarthy telling Trump, “Don’t do this. You’re going to cost us those seats.” And who knows what concessions they made? Who knows what Mitch McConnell has promised him on January 6? It’s of real concern. And all we can hope and be vigilant about is that there is a transition and that you don’t have shenanigans with the Senate or the House of Representatives on January 6th.

AMY GOODMAN: So, at the same time you have this vote expected to take place, you said, tonight that Nancy Pelosi is putting forward to increase the payments to $2,000, if you can quickly say why the Democrats didn’t demand this from the beginning, why it took Trump? It seemed that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pelosi, Schumer were his major enemies, but then he put Mitch McConnell at the top of the list because he dared to say the words “President-elect Joe Biden,” so ticked him off that he just put in this demand at the end, after Mnuchin negotiated the whole thing. But why didn’t the Democrats, your colleagues, insist on this from the beginning?

REP. RO KHANNA: I don’t know. It’s a good question. That’s what I’ve been asking on Twitter and making the point more broadly. I mean, there were many of us, not just progressives, people who are highly respected in the party — Senator Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan — many saying, “Let’s get $2,000 in the pocket of ordinary Americans. Let’s vote on it.” We should have been saying this, voting on it, campaigning on this loudly and clearly since March, partly because it may have been effective in actually getting Americans relief. And secondarily, it would have made it clear that one party is for getting money to working families and putting money in the pockets of people, and the other party is blocking it. Instead, I think we were too reluctant. We were not sufficiently bold. We finally did pass a HEROES Act, but that had $1,200 checks. It did not have $2,000 checks. None of the checks were monthly.

So, what I think this shows is that our policies are popular. You see Donald Trump realizing that too late. We should be willing to have votes on it, to advocate for it, and realize that we’re on the side of people. We don’t have to wait for some kind of mythical bipartisan consensus to advocate for good policy.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, $1.5 billion for the southern border wall between U.S. and Mexico, that Trump had insisted Mexico would pay for, reportedly pushing scores of these projects forward because he thinks possibly President Joe Biden will stop this wall. But what about that? That’s part of this bill. That’s part of what the Democrats and Republicans arrived at by consensus.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, that’s wrong. And that’s why some of us in the progressive party voted against the authorization for the homeland security and against the authorization for defense. We voted for the part of the bill that would get $600 checks to people and that would fund most of the other government. And the speaker split the bill because she knew that there were many progressives who could not in good conscience vote for more funding for the border wall, could not vote for this bloated defense budget. And that is something that we’re going to have to try to reverse in the first year of the Biden administration.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to a tweet you sent out earlier this month. You wrote, “If you vote for a bloated $740 billion defense budget, which [is] over 50% of our discretionary budget, or the Trump $1.6 trillion tax cut, please save us the lectures about deficits. You have no credibility.” In addition to voting on the $2,000 checks to go out, both houses of Congress are expected to overturn Trump’s veto of the NDAA. Can you explain what this is all about?

REP. RO KHANNA: It’s very simple. Trump has vetoed the defense bill, which would be $740 billion. Now, his reasons for vetoing it are disingenuous. He wants to strip tech companies of Section 230 protections, which, if you strip them of that, would really hurt speech on the internet. This is not some thoughtful reform.

But the bottom line is, $740 billion is way too much defense spending. We’re spending money on aircrafts. We’re spending money on the modernization of nuclear weapons. And we can’t find money to get food in to people who need it? We can’t find money to get more rental assistance for folks who are going to face evictions? We can’t find money to get $2,000 into the pockets of Americans?

The priorities are wrong, and so I’m not going to vote to override his veto. There’s almost a crisis in Washington, where everyone’s flying back in because they don’t want something to happen where we don’t pass the defense budget at this bloated level. But my view is, let’s really ask why we are spending so much money on defense when we have such other needs of national security.

One other point, Amy: The NIH actually has the ability to have universal viral detectors, to have antiviral treatments. Why aren’t we funding that, those programs, instead of buying more aircraft carriers?

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of this military bill, that you say you will break from the Democrats in voting to override, the Trump administration has formally notified Congress it intends to authorize the sale of nearly a half-billion dollars’ worth of laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. Critics say the weapons could be used on civilians in Yemen. In 2019, Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Congressmember Ro Khanna, you have continually championed the issue of peace in Yemen and the stopping of U.S.-backed Saudi-UAE war on the people of Yemen. Can you comment on what that means, what you’re going to do about it, and the fact you recently told The Washington Post Biden should immediately reverse course if this deal goes through?

REP. RO KHANNA: President-elect Biden must reverse course. And I am convinced he will. I think Tony Blinken, his secretary of state designee, understands the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and wants to make sure that we bring it to an end.

The first thing we need to do is stop supplying the Saudis not just with weapons, but also with any logistical support, intelligence support, that they can use to increase their offensive in Yemen. And we need to support Martin Griffiths at the U.N., who’s been doing a terrific job in bringing the parties together.

So, this is a last-ditch effort from Trump to reward the Saudis. He’s had a pro-Saudi policy for four years. It’s unfortunately led to one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the world. But that is going to end January 20th. I have confidence, actually, in Tony Blinken and Jake Sullivan. They understand the depths of this crisis, and they will work with Congress to help bring it to an end.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about COVID. You represent California in Congress. COVID is raging across the country, with cases now topping 19 million, over a third of a million deaths. One in every thousand Americans has now died of COVID-19. December, the deadliest month in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic, as experts warn things will likely get worse with post-holiday season travel leading to new spikes. Your state, California, becoming the first state to top 2 million cases last week, as hospitals in Southern California are reporting just a handful to no ICU beds available. Congressman Ro Khanna, can you talk about what is happening now and what needs to happen?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s tragic. It’s unprecedented, unfathomable. I mean, we’re losing over 3,000 Americans a day. I would say there are four things that need to happen.

First, new leadership needs to set a new tone about the importance of wearing masks and social distancing. It’s not just legislation. Leadership matters. I think President Biden will do that.

Second, we need an efficient and fair distribution system of the vaccines. That remains our best bet.

Third, we need to continue to invest in testing and contact tracing. That still isn’t happening in many parts of the country.

And finally, we need massive investment in making sure people have healthcare. There are people, you know, who are paying $200 for tests. In fact, I had to pay — I had my family tested. It cost $200 for each test. Now, we can get it reimbursed by insurance, and some insurance does, some doesn’t. We need to make sure that the testing and the healthcare related to COVID is free, so that we can actually incentivize people to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think the issue of Medicare for All will play, when you have COVID, that has really exposed the racial economic disparities when it comes to healthcare, particularly that — you know, who has access, who doesn’t? This goes to issues from vaccine access to test access to mask access. How you, a proponent of Medicare for All, can lead a new Congress and a Democratic administration, which, frankly, President Biden has said he will veto Medicare for All — do you think you could change that, given what so many people in this country have understood?

REP. RO KHANNA: I do. Medicare for All now has become a moral imperative. Here is the thing, Amy. In this country’s history when we have had past crises, we usually respond with bold legislation. When there was the Depression, we responded with bold legislation on the economy. When we had civil rights movement and Dr. King, we responded with civil rights legislation.

We have now just had the greatest healthcare crisis, arguably, in the last hundred years. It has exposed that people who don’t have healthcare are having worse outcomes, are facing either death or facing higher risk of illness. It should be obvious that the solution is to have people have healthcare coverage from the day they are born. That is what Medicare for All is.

We need to have a vote in the House of Representatives on Medicare for All. We need to continue to advocate for it. And we have to build consensus for it. Now, people say, “Well, the votes aren’t there. The Senate votes aren’t there.” If Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson had thought that way, they would have never gotten anything done. LBJ could have just said, “Well, the Southern votes aren’t there. Let’s never pass civil rights.” That is not imaginative leadership. The challenge is for us to build a consensus and the votes. And if we’re not going to do it in this crisis, then when?

AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, we want to thank you for being with us, Democratic congressmember from California. He represents Silicon Valley, a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

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