By Robert Willmann
As a social, cultural, and medical episode about a virus becomes more surreal each day, Congress passed a law to spend massive amounts of money the federal government does not have to assist a badly damaged economy the government itself caused — along with mass media — by their frantic, fear-generating publicity that emboldened state governors and local mayors to illegally give orders to restrict and shut down the very movement of people and their participation in personal, family, religious, business, and organizational activities, which were previously sustaining their lives and well being. By failing to fully disclose and discuss publicly the structure and composition of the virus and its physiological effects before taking ham-handed, drastic steps, all levels of government have trapped themselves with no objective criteria and evidence on which to base a return to sane, normal life.
The virus in question is SARS-CoV-2: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2. It is alleged to cause an illness called COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), earlier called 2019-nCoV.
The Senate voted 96-0 to pass the bill at 11:17 p.m. on Wednesday, 25 March. All laws appropriating money are required to start in the House of Representatives, so the Senate took an existing bill with a different subject relating to appropriations that had earlier passed in the House — H.R.748 — and replaced its contents with Senate amendment 1578, which was put into the Congressional Record on pages CR 2063 to 2156–
Today, Friday, the House passed it by a shifty, and possibly outlaw procedure, bulldozing past Representative Thomas Massie (Repub. Kentucky), who demanded that a quorum be proved and that a recorded vote be taken on the proposed law. It is not clear at this time exactly what took place within the context of the House rules and the constitution.
The official version of the Senate bill in the Congressional Record provided above has a small font, appearing as small lettering. The Senate bill which was passed by the House has 852 pages and is now available with a larger typeface .
The Big Enchilada, $500 billion, is in section 4003 for "eligible businesses, States, and municipalities". A "mid-sized business" has between 500 and 10,000 employees, and the funds received by the business and associated with the Not-Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed) are to be used to retain at least 90 percent of the workforce, at full compensation and benefits, until 30 September 2020 (section 4003(c)(3)(D)). The Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin; his designee (section 4002(9)); and the board of directors of the Fed will decide in their discretion who gets a loan and on what terms under section 4003, within a few conditions and limitations in the new law. A sum of money routed to the Not-Federal Reserve Bank, and then from it to regular commercial banks, can create a much greater dollar amount for loans, through the magic of fractional reserve banking. To what extent the Fed will also create money out of thin air to contribute to providing "liquidity" to the financial system is not clear from the text.
The $500 billion is divided into $25 billion for passenger air carriers, $4 billion for cargo air carriers, and $17 billion for private businesses "critical to maintaining national security" (undefined, and perhaps including some Beltway Bandits). The remaining $454 billion, plus any left over from the other three amounts, is for "loans and loan guarantees to, and other investments in, programs" established by the Fed. Guaranteeing at least some of the debt created through banks is authorized in section 4008, using the Federal Deposit "Insurance" Corporation (FDIC), and for federal credit unions, using the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, ending the guarantee on 31 December 2020. The board of the Fed may hold secret meetings exempt from the federal open meetings law for "unusual and exigent circumstances" announced in writing by the chairman, until the earlier of the end of the viral national emergency or 31 December 2020 (section 4009).
Millions of people including small business owners have lost all income, by the orders of governors and mayors. But section 4004 helps officers and employees of some of the favored businesses under section 4003 to avoid a big pay cut, while also saying they cannot get a pay increase. If an officer or employee of a business getting a loan or loan guarantee under section 4003 made more than $425,000 up to $3 million in calendar year 2019, then during the time the loan or loan guarantee is in effect and for one year afterwards, he or she cannot make more than that in compensation during a 12-month period. If the poor-mouthing officer or employee made more than $3 million in 2019, he or she can continue to receive that, plus 50 percent of what was received over $3 million in 2019 [!], as compensation during a 12-month period.
The nice, wide open discretion as to $500 billion for the Big Boys and Girls is — as you might expect — not available to the unwashed masses. For example, businesses with up to 500 employees are going to have to struggle with applications to the Small Business Administration, and workers will have to try to get new unemployment compensation, after getting it under an existing program, and possibly for only 39 weeks. Some workers may be able to withdraw or borrow from a retirement fund without a tax or other penalty. Some businesses may be able to jiggle around with changes in federal tax rules.
By reading sections 1101 through 2308, you can see what small businesses and workers are going to have to try to figure out and understand, before they can hope to get any relief. Section 1107 appropriates $377 billion, $265 million ($377,265,000,000), but understanding how to get to the money and then getting it is a problem.
The enticing item to keep the lid from coming off and society from boiling over is the $1,200 payment to a person, plus $500 for each child. To legally justify a dramatic action such as that, a gimmick using the income tax law has been invented. Section 2201 amends the Internal Revenue Code after section 6427, and creates a "credit against the tax", that may turn into an "advance refund" or "refund" or a type of "rebate".
This law will produce a huge undertaking when the attempt is made to implement it, and I have not even touched on the sections involving hospitals and medical care. It likely took quite a few people in and out of government to piece it together and write it in the stilted and contrived language used in most statutes. It is organized to some degree, and you can take it apart to study subjects of interest.
One bit of hidden good news comes from Britain, the United Kingdom. The government officially declared that–
"As of 19 March 2020, COVID-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious diseases (HCID) in the UK. … Now that more is known about COVID-19, the public health bodies in the UK have reviewed the most up to date information about COVID-19 against the UK HCID criteria. They have determined that several features have now changed; in particular, more information is available about mortality rates (low overall), and there is now greater clinical awareness and a specific and sensitive laboratory test, the availability of which continues to increase. The Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) is also of the opinion that COVID-19 should no longer be classified as an HCID."
This should put the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 into the standard category of an infectious disease, which would include types of "regular" flu. Further down the page of information is an interesting table of what Britain considers to be the really bad stuff, the HCID. Four types of Avian influenza and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are considered to be HCID, although, as the note says, no cases of SARS have been reported there since 2004–
It is a curious situation, in that the decision in Britain was reached on 19 March but was not published until Saturday, 21 March, and then the finding was not trumpeted by the government. I do not know what restrictions were imposed on the public in Britain after 19 March, and apparently there were some, but on 25 March, a special law was passed called the Coronavirus Act 2020. It is 342 pages long, and of course it creates new "authority". That new law is to expire and end after two years, except when it does not! (See section 90, page 60.)–
The sight of Congress and the executive branch strutting around pretending they solved a problem they created is beyond surreal. There are gaps in the public presentation of the virus, its history, and its effects on a person. The SARS-CoV-2 may replicate in the throat, making its transfer more contagious. It might have other features that help it to increase in number and negatively affect a person's physiology. The lack of detailed information about the virus is another subject.