Can America Survive a Party of Saboteurs?

Almost four years have passed since Congress approved and Donald Trump signed a huge relief bill designed to limit the financial hardship created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The CARES Act did its job. Although around 25 million Americans temporarily lost their jobs — with the job losses mainly caused by fear of infection rather than officially mandated shutdowns — there was far less monetary pain than you might have expected given the magnitude of the public health crisis.

In fact, according to a Federal Reserve survey, the percentage of Americans “doing at least OK financially” was actually higher in July 2020 than it had been before the pandemic, presumably because for many people, government aid, including one-time checks and greatly enhanced unemployment benefits, more than made up for lost jobs and business.

Furthermore, fears that generous aid during the pandemic would undermine America’s work ethic — that adults would leave the labor force and never come back — proved totally wrong. A new paper from the San Francisco Fed is titled “Why Is Prime-Age Labor Force Participation So High?” It notes that Americans between 25 and 54 are more likely to be in the work force now than they were at any time since the early 2000s.

So the CARES Act was a huge policy success. But given recent political developments, I’ve found myself thinking: What would have happened if Democrats in 2020 had behaved like Republicans in 2024?

Imagine an alternative history in which Joe Biden, who was already by then the strong favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination, had urged Democrats in Congress not to pass a relief bill — the same way Trump has bullied Republicans into voting against a border security bill — because he believed that reducing Americans’ misery might help Trump get re-elected.

Imagine a history in which Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House at the time, had behaved like Mike Johnson, the current Republican speaker, and prevented a bill attempting to address an urgent national priority from coming to the floor.

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