WASHINGTON —

For the first time in history, the U.S. government is intentionally putting the American economy into a recession - requiring businesses to stop operating and workers to stay home, to stop the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. This has never been done before, and the stakes are incredibly high. If we act quickly to keep businesses afloat and workers employed, there is a strong chance we can create a “V-shaped” recession - a steep, rapid decline, followed by an equally steep, rapid recovery once the danger from the virus has been mitigated. But if we delay, and millions of businesses go under, we may enter not just a recession but a full-fledged depression.

But at this critical moment, when Americans needed their leaders in Congress to rise above their differences and work together to save the country, Democrats decided to take the American economy hostage by blocking a $1.8 trillion bipartisan emergency relief bill.

Only a few days ago, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was expressing his “delight and surprise” at the bipartisan cooperation in crafting the bill. He was right. Conservatives who abhor government intervention in the economy came together with Democrats to support the largest intervention in U.S. history. They agreed to provide direct cash payments to Americans of up to $2,400 per couple and $500 per child. They embraced a bipartisan plan by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to provide more than $350 billion to small- and medium-sized businesses to cover payroll and rent, via loans that would be forgiven if the businesses don’t lay off workers. They backed a $250 billion expansion of unemployment insurance - which includes $600 a week more than a state normally pays each person - advocated by Democrats. They created a $500 billion “Exchange Stabilization Fund” - including $425 billion in loans and loan guarantees to be administered by the Federal Reserve - for businesses, states or municipalities hit hardest by the economic lockdown, money the Fed could leverage to inject as much as $4 trillion of liquidity into our struggling economy. And they agreed with Democrats to prohibit stock buybacks by any company that receives loans.

The Senate appeared ready to pass this vital legislation Sunday - until suddenly Democrats balked. They attacked the stabilization program as a “slush fund” and started to issue demands that the relief bill include a host of left-wing priorities that had nothing to do with the coronavirus. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the House minority whip, told fellow Democrats in a conference call over the weekend that the relief bill was “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced competing legislation that included elements of Democrats’ Green New Deal, including a requirement that airlines fully offset their carbon emissions and list their greenhouse gas emissions from every flight. It includes a requirement that any company receiving loans must report on pay equity and corporate board diversity, and adds other extraneous items such as guaranteed collective bargaining for all federal workers, a bailout for the U.S. Postal Service and requirements that all states allow early voting and same-day voter registration. With the backing of the Democrats’ presumptive nominee Joe Biden, Democrats have also demanded that any relief bill include a minimum of $10,000 per person in forgiveness for federal student loans, despite the fact that President Donald Trump already waived interest on those loans for 60 days starting March 13 and gave student borrowers the option to request a 60-day forbearance on repayments.

Little or none of this is likely to become law. At this writing, Senate leaders are reportedly close to an agreement that will include tweaks to the legislation, such as a few extra weeks of enhanced unemployment payments, more money for hospitals, and tighter controls and oversight on the Exchange Stabilization Fund. But if those had been the extent of the Democrats’ demands, a deal could have been worked out Sunday night. The relief bill would already be signed into law, banks would already be extending lifesaving loans to keep businesses afloat, and relief payments to struggling families would already be in the works.

Instead, Democrats needlessly delayed the delivery of this emergency aid while American workers were losing their jobs and businesses teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Americans will not forget that, at a critical juncture, Democrats tried to use the coronavirus pandemic as leverage to ram through a laundry list of left-wing agenda items. It will go down as one of the most shameful displays of partisanship in American history.

Marc Thiessen writes for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He is a Fox News contributor.

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