Historic stimulus and spending legislation may have seemed, for much of 2020, the victim of hyper-partisans who would never agree on anything, even in a pandemic that was killing hundreds of thousands of people. But in a true crisis, Congress and the President can in fact act in a bipartisan fashion. They passed three major stimulus packages totaling more than $5 trillion dollars. Globally, in a few short months, the world’s major economies spent triple what they did in the entire 2008-2009 recession.
Modern American presidents and Congresses do not have the luxury of being ideological zealots demanding libertarian nor socialist responses from each other. One hundred years ago, many political leaders in the 1920s, before the Great Depression, were in fact rigid ideological zealots who believed in laissez-faire economics, that the federal government should keep its “hands off” the free market economy. Even fiscal conservatives today, however, don’t believe rigidly in that. The public now expects the federal government to do something in an economic crisis, and it does.
In late December, 2020, one day before the government was set to shut down, President Trump relented to bipartisan pressure and signed a $900 billion economic stimulus and government funding bill that included a $600 stimulus payment to each adult and child making less than $75,000 a year, plus emergency relief, extended unemployment aid, and small-business assistance. Democrats and Republicans had worked since May to craft such legislation and finally agreed on a compromise which President Trump initially refused to sign. But he caved when the consequences of doing nothing, both sides agreed, would cause significant harm to Americans and to the overall economy.
“The aid bill includes a revival of expanded and extended unemployment benefits, billions of dollars to help states with vaccine distribution, a replenished small-business loan program and relief money for airlines. It was passed along with a spending measure to keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year,” The New York Times reported.
As with most if not all major legislation, those on all sides of the political divide, if they examine it too closely, can find details they don’t like. The full text of the bill ran almost 5,600 pages. Democrats initially wanted $3 trillion in the final stimulus of the year. Republicans initially wanted $105 billion or less.
“If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made,” German leader Otto von Bismarck once observed keenly of the legislative process.