A bipartisan alternative to the US unemployment crisis is emerging: The government paying everyone's salary

Pramila Jayapal
Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington.

AP / Elaine Thompson

  • A progressive representative and a conservative senator have each proposed that the federal government cover workers' wages.

  • Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, wrote an op-ed calling for the government to cover 80% of wages.

  • Meanwhile, Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, has laid out legislation that would have the government cover 100% of wages and benefits.

  • Each proposal would be the kind of socialist measure put in place to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic by several western European countries.

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A Democratic representative from Washington and a Republican senator from Missouri have independently called for an alternative to the skyrocketing number of unemployment claims over the past month: the federal government paying workers' salaries.

The exact details of the different plans differ, but the proposals signal a potential shift towards the type of socialism American conservatives have continually decried.

On Thursday, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that the federal government should cover 80% of workers' wages — up to the "national median wage" — and should give bonuses to businesses that rehire laid-off workers. The Washington Post estimates that Hawley's plan would have a cap somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000.

On Friday, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) offered up legislation that went even further: under her plan, the federal government would cover 100% of salaries and benefits up to $100,000 — including healthcare.

After publication, progressive standard-bearer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted her support for Jayapal's plan, writing "YES" and thanking Jayapal for proposing it.

To be sure, neither Jayapal nor Hawley fall quite within their parties' mainstream. Jayapal is co-chair of the progressive caucus and Hawley has advocated in favor of a more activist kind of Republican government — notably on tech oversight — since he was elected to the Senate in 2018. But they may find common cause here; Jayapal's staff has reached out to Hawley to discuss a potential collaboration, according to The Washington Post.

"Here is what I propose," Hawley wrote. "Because the government has taken the step of closing the economy to protect public health, Congress should in turn protect every single job in this country for the duration of this crisis. And Congress should help our businesses rehire every worker who has already lost a job because of the coronavirus."

If such measures were implemented, the United States would join countries like Denmark, the Netherlands, and the UK that have already committed to covering workers' salaries by at least 75%. And that wage relief would be on top of the stimulus checks that many Americans will receive from the government.

Jayapal told The Washington Post that she had spoken with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and he is reportedly interested in the proposal. Former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen also reportedly responded "positively."

"When you're in the thick of a crisis, all of the traditional ideological constraints fall away. People are willing to think anew," Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) told the newspaper. "I don't know Senator Hawley. I'm impressed that he arrived at this idea."

The Atlantic's Derek Thompson wrote on March 21 that Denmark's plan "could be a blueprint for how the world can avoid another Great Depression."

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