Alexandra DeSanctis here, filling in for Jim Geraghty this week. On the menu today: Congress is back in session, ready to negotiate another round of COVID-19 relief funding; New York City enters Phase Four of reopening as Andrew Cuomo cracks down on outdoor drinkers; and Andrew Sullivan departs New York magazine with a telling farewell.
Congress Preps to Mull Another Stimulus Bill
Back in session this week, the House and Senate face the difficult task of wrangling another stimulus bill, adding to $2.2 trillion that Congress already doled out in March in the CARES Act, through the Paycheck Protection Program, individual stimulus checks, and other forms of spending. Two months ago, Democrats in the House passed a $3 trillion spending bill, hoping that it would become the new stimulus package, giving additional aid to state and local governments and another $1,200 to each taxpayer.
But Senate Republicans have indicated they’re only willing to craft a new bill for about $1 trillion, focusing on a few key industries rather than the panoply of special interests that have been lobbying hard for a piece of the pie during the economic recovery.
As just one example of the many groups insisting on special treatment, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning that several energy corporations are pushing for Congress to add a tax credit cash-out option in the newest stimulus bill. Such a plan would allow corporations to use tax credits, such as those earned for using renewable energy, even if they have used tax deductions to lower their taxable income.
According to the WSJ, the tax credits and this proposal have the potential for bipartisan support “because they subsidize activities Democrats favor, including renewable energy and affordable housing” and “the net long-run cost to the government of accelerating the credits would be smaller than the immediate cash infusion for companies.”
But Republicans in the Senate have yet to signal whether this proposal will be a priority for inclusion in their draft of the new bill. Here’s how the New York Times outlines what the GOP iteration is likely to cover:
Republicans hope to unveil a tailored package in the coming days, likely to be about $1 trillion, that would include a series of liability protections for businesses, hospitals and schools fearful of getting sued by customers and employees who contract the virus. The conference remains divided over how to address extended unemployment benefits, which amount to an additional $600 per week, with some Republicans pushing to lower the amount instead of outright eliminating the benefit altogether.
It is also unclear how other disputes will be resolved among Republicans, including efforts to allocate billions of dollars to the nation’s top health agencies and to states for testing. The White House over the weekend balked at preliminary suggestions for those funding levels, infuriating Republicans anxious to introduce their own legislation before an intense round of negotiations begin with Democrats.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Senate Republicans are planning to introduce legislation soon that they say would focus on “kids, jobs and health care,” and liability protection for businesses, schools and medical workers.
But Democrats don’t seem inclined to settle for something so narrowly tailored, especially since this is almost certainly the last bite at the apple for this Congress before Election Day, and there are plenty of groups lobbying hard to be included in this latest round of spending. For one thing, unemployment-insurance provisions are slated to lapse at the end of the month, and it’s hard to imagine a version of this bill getting passed and signed that doesn’t extend them. And given that President Trump fought to have his signature included on the individual stimulus payments sent to taxpayers, he very well may see another round of those payments as a key part of priming Americans to approve of his handling of the virus and back him again in November.
New York City Enters Phase Four
Up the Acela corridor from the negotiations in the capital, New York City enters Phase Four of recovery today, allowing some venues to open at limited capacity for outdoor activities, such as zoos and botanical gardens. Most indoor activities at most venues remain prohibited, but indoor gatherings of up to 50 people are now permitted, and indoor religious gatherings will be permitted at one-third of maximum capacity.
Unsurprisingly, other parts of the state are well ahead of New York City in getting back to somewhat normal business, with indoor venues such as theaters, art galleries, malls, and museums opening to the public after meeting the state’s air-filtration guidelines.
The ongoing restrictions in New York City are a particular blow to restaurants, which now face another indefinite period of waiting for permission to commence indoor dining. According to the Times, restaurant owners in the city had been planning on Phase Four allowing them to begin supplementing revenue from outdoor dining with reduced-capacity indoor dining.
“Many restaurants are not making enough money with just takeout and outdoor dining, and are struggling to pay their current and back rent,” the Times reports. “Restaurants in neighborhoods like Midtown Manhattan that have been emptied of office workers are struggling more than those in residential neighborhoods.” About 8,600 restaurants in the city have set up and opened for outdoor business, but this brings in just a sliver of their typical income.
Talking to reporters late last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted that there will be a second wave of the coronavirus sweeping through his state. As has become his custom, the governor took care to blame everyone but himself: “The second wave is going to be the confluence of the lack of compliance and the local governments’ lack of enforcement, plus the viral spread coming back from the other states,” he said. “It is going to happen.”
This newest phase of reopening starts in the city just a few days after Cuomo announced a ban on most outdoor drinking, prohibiting restaurants already worn thin and buckling under financial pressure from selling alcohol to customers who do not also purchase a substantial meal.
“No food? Then no alcohol,” Cuomo said, before explaining that his policy defines “food” rather strictly: Purchasing snack or appetizer-type food does not count as having a meal and thus does not qualify for purchasing alcohol. Cuomo announced that the policy also signals greater enforcement of an existing rule that requires patrons who purchase alcohol at outdoor restaurants to be seated.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of a hospitality trade group in New York City, said the rule is likely to create public-safety hazards: “Prohibiting people seated at a table from having a beer on a hot summer day unless they order food is counterproductive. People will simply gravitate to stoops, streets and parks with open containers, creating less safe conditions elsewhere.”
Considering that Cuomo continues to insist that his policies played no part in the steep death rates in his state — in particular denying any responsibility for his decision to force infected New Yorkers into nursing homes, where thousands of elderly residents subsequently died of the coronavirus — it’s difficult to take him too seriously when he decides it’s time to police the food choices of New Yorkers, ensuring that their meal is hearty enough and that they are planted in a chair before an already-outdoor restaurant can sell them a beer.
Andrew Sullivan Departs New York Magazine
In his final column for New York magazine’s Intelligencer blog, Andrew Sullivan announced his departure, insisting that he hasn’t been “cancelled” for his views but rather than he simply will no longer “be writing for a magazine that has every right to hire and fire anyone it wants when it comes to the content of what it wants to publish.”
Though Sullivan insists that the column isn’t about “cancel culture,” his surmising about why he’s (presumably) been asked to leave pretty clearly suggests that his unpopular views on a couple issues of key importance to his progressive colleagues had a lot to do with it. While that may not be an example of “cancellation,” it’s certainly in the ballpark. Here’s the heart of the explanation Sullivan offered (though his column is worth reading in full):
What has happened, I think, is relatively simple: A critical mass of the staff and management at New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to associate with me, and, in a time of ever tightening budgets, I’m a luxury item they don’t want to afford. And that’s entirely their prerogative. They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. Actually attacking, and even mocking, critical theory’s ideas and methods, as I have done continually in this space, is therefore out of sync with the values of Vox Media. That, to the best of my understanding, is why I’m out of here.
Two years ago, I wrote that we all live on campus now. That is an understatement. In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the woke program — and those few left are being purged. . . . And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.
It seems to me that if this conservatism is so foul that many of my peers are embarrassed to be working at the same magazine, then I have no idea what version of conservatism could ever be tolerated.
Sullivan also announced that his departure means he’ll go back to running his website the Dish, a site that helped pioneer modern blogging especially about politics and culture. It’s good that his thoughtful, challenging, and skillful writing will have a home on the Web, but it’s a pity that another writer has been driven from a mainstream website after failing to conform to left-wing orthodoxy on identity and gender politics. (That’s two in one week; although Bari Weiss resigned from the Times of her own accord, it seems that the internal conditions were similarly difficult for her and played a big part in her decision to go.)
If you look at Sullivan’s explanation, his heterodoxy on race and gender is really the only way to understand what happened. Though he’s typically classified as a conservative, and calls himself one, he certainly doesn’t fit neatly into the box of modern conservatism, even (and perhaps especially) on issues having to do with sexuality. But even so, his refusal to accept the progressive embrace of “critical theory” on sexuality, gender identity, and race politics seems to have been his undoing.
ADDENDUM: This article in the latest print edition of The Atlantic is a lovely look at the history of supermarkets, reflecting on them in light of how crucial they’ve been for so many Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.