Episode 78: Dire Straits, Money for Nothing

In the seventy-eighth episode of The Latest, we refresh our checking account for an update on the new COVID-19 relief package. Lane Flores, a playwright with a background in Greek and Latin literature, joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 78: Dire Straits, Money for Nothing


Those voices are discussing the American Rescue Plan, which is either a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package or a nationwide phone contract that saves and rolls over your unused anytime minutes.

As economic relief begins to appear in the bank accounts of U.S. citizens, many of the nouveau riche across the nation are beginning to ask themselves the same question: was this just a one-month loan to cover what I owe you on my taxes?

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar economic relief package is one of the most expensive bills in U.S. history, accounting for, among other things, $28 billion in grants for restaurants and bars, $350 billion for local governments, $170 billion for public schools and colleges, and $9 for an extra serving of chocolate mousse since we’re already putting it on the card.

Perhaps most importantly, the legislation includes tens of billions of dollars in funding for vaccine distribution, paving a clear path for more realtors and social media influencers to get the shot before your parents.

Taken together, it’s a serious attempt to mitigate the ongoing economic and public health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that worldwide phenomenon, like The Masked Singer, that’s well outlasted its time in the spotlight and is slowly showing signs of losing steam. 

Initially grabbing headlines for its generous $1,400 direct individual payments, which should just about cover the GrubHub delivery fees you’ve racked up since the lockdowns began, a closer examination of the bill has revealed it to be the one of the most progressive and generous pieces of legislation since George W. Bush signed into law the tax rebate for anyone who spends more than $50 at the Guantanamo Bay gift shop. 

Expanded child tax credits, for instance, are replacing tax refunds with recurring direct payments for low- and middle-income families of up to $300 per month per child, explaining that new speedboat in the driveway of your Mormon friends.

From $86 billion in funding for pensions to changes to the Affordable Care Act that reduces the cost of insurance to low-income families, the scope of the entire plan adds up to a broadly ambitious social welfare program that almost makes having one of the developed world’s highest rates of incarceration, obesity, and infant mortality easier to stomach.

In spite of the wide-ranging relief offered to individuals and businesses, the bill nevertheless faced widespread opposition by the Republican Party, believing the only Americans that truly need to be rescued are those who have yet to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts.

Each and every member of the GOP in the House and Senate voted against the bill, going firmly on record as being in favor of letting residents in Massachusetts go without water, sewage, and broadband infrastructure because we already passed an expensive stimulus program last year that bailed out Boston Market. 

Senators like Florida’s Rick Scott are urging red states to “reject and return” such “wasteful” federal aid, tearing up the check from grandpa because his birthday card is fiscally irresponsible, even as legislators like Florida Representative Maria Salazar and Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker attempt to take credit for the positive aspects of the bill that they voted against! “Of course we didn’t order any appetizers, so don’t put that on our tab — by the way, can you pass the potato skins?”

I find this legislation to be incredibly exciting — not just because I support any federal initiative that funds the purchase of my MacBook, but because it actually appears to be engineered towards lifting up the lives of people whose idea of a private plane is when nobody takes a seat by you in the middle or the aisle on your Southwest flight to New Jersey. 

The signature legislation of the previous administration, The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, is said to have cost the same amount of money as the Rescue Plan — $1.9 trillion — so that the 400 wealthiest people in America could pay lower tax rates than the other 330,141,100 people who weren’t lucky enough to have fallen out of Wal Mart’s cervix.  

Guaranteeing dried-up pensions, making garbage insurance more affordable, and helping bars and restaurants that don’t end in “Friday’s” or “Pizza Kitchen” stay in business are the types of things that will help this country get back to normal — and by that, I mean our unique version of normal, where schools regularly go on lockdown because of active shooters.

Now, I’m not pretending this thing’s going to be perfect — I’m sure some strip club will get a new mirrored ball tacked onto our nation’s $28 trillion credit card when, frankly, the old one looked perfectly fine —  but the scale of this legislation at least suggests that we’re willing to take a new approach to arranging and organizing the Level 9 onslaught descending Tetris pieces. And yes, I know they’re called Tetrominos, but I’m trying to make this program 5% less esoteric. 

Democrats are in the planning phase of a $4 trillion infrastructure plan that’s likely to be funded by tax increases on wealthy citizens and corporations, who, thanks to Uncle Sam, might have to think twice before splurging on a $69 million JPEG. 

And if squashing the filibuster means the governing party might eventually have a chance to take on voting rights, racial justice, and gun violence, once this pandemic’s over, we might be taking baby steps towards creating a country that’s worth inhabiting — until the CO2 levels spike and destroy our coastlines and crops.