In the wee hours of the morning, US senators reached an agreement on an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus plan to save the US economy, which is screeching to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated cancelations and lockdowns. The package will reportedly include a provision that blocks businesses controlled by the president and other elected and appointed government officials from benefiting from $500 billion slated for industry.
The Democratic minority leader, senator Chuck Schumer of New York, told senators in an early morning letter that the bill contains clauses that allow for strict oversight of any loans to businesses, prompt public disclosure, and limits that will prevent corruption. This will ensure loans are fair, he said. Any financial assistance to businesses will come under the supervision of an inspector general and an oversight board. Meanwhile, businesses controlled by the president, vice president, congressional lawmakers and heads of executive departments will be barred from receiving loans.
Democrats were concerned about potential conflicts of interest, especially given the fact that US president Donald Trump’s family continues to run the sprawling Trump business empire, which includes real estate, hotels, casinos, and so much more. The president’s family even has a website called “Trump Store,” which sells everything from branded lavender to footballs.
Despite his heavy hand in growing his eponymous empire, this chief executive has been more reticent than any other president in recent history about his financial dealings. Trump has not made his tax records public and has continually blocked congressional ethics committees from reviewing his financial records as they formulate new rules to prevent this kind of secrecy in the future.
The senate minority blocked passage of the massive stimulus bill this past weekend, seeking to ensure that the stimulus package is not misspent and that industries benefiting from any governmental aid use the appropriations in such a way that benefits the economy rather than lining the pockets of major shareholders. Senators are expected to reconvene at noon and are expected to vote on the package soon, but there is still no clarity on the precise wording of provisions meant to prevent the president and other officials from becoming the personal beneficiaries of this package.
What is certain is that strict limits are critical. Last week, news came to light that some senators sold off millions of dollars worth of stocks after learning in a private hearing that the coronavirus pandemic would impact the economy. The lawmakers argue that they acted on public information and this may well be true (proving otherwise is difficult). Still, it’s obvious that protecting against conflicts of interest should be a top priority as the government rushes through aid packages like never before.