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Republicans love the COVID-19 stimulus, but not the airline payouts

Fast Company logo Fast Company 4/1/2020 Connie Lin

Most conservative voters approve of the historic $2 trillion stimulus bill signed into law late last week, a report from research firm Morning Consult finds.

In a joint Morning Consult-Politico poll, 86% of conservatives and 87% of Republicans approved of the package, which is on par with an 88% approval rating from Democrats. This near-universal support for the stimulus follows weeks of partisan squabbling in Washington as the bill worked its way through Congress.

Republicans’ response to the stimulus is uncharacteristic, given that small spending and small government are among the party’s central tenets. In the wake of 2008’s Great Recession, efforts to restore the economy from both President Bush, whose $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program bailed out Wall Street, and President Obama, whose $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bailed out Main Street, met with strong resistance from conservatives. But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled much of the economy, it seems the party is giving its elected officials a pass, notes Morning Consult.

So what’s different this time? Grover Norquist, president of conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and a critic of the TARP bailout and ARRA stimulus, told the firm that unlike a decade ago, when excessive risk-taking from big banks sank the economy, our current crisis was caused by factors less within our control, as the need for Americans to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19 has disrupted a previously booming market.

“There isn’t a bad guy—it’s a virus,” he said.

A breakdown of the stimulus bill’s provisions found that among Republicans, the most popular items include tax credits to businesses that continue to pay workers who are not working, and funding for healthcare providers, food assistance programs, and the Department of Defense—all with over 80% approval ratings.

The least popular item, among both Republicans and all voters, is the $58 billion payout to the airline industry.

But, hey, maybe voters won’t have to worry. While the U.S. government has been weighing the option to take stakes in airlines in exchange for direct funding, a letter from flight attendants to the Department of the Treasury cited by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday says this may dissuade airlines from accepting federal aid. Unions representing flight attendants at United, American, and Southwest argued that if airlines are required to give up stakes in return for help, they might refuse the cash—including grants that cover payroll, which would lead to layoffs.

“This effectively renders the payroll grants a poison pill that will cost us our jobs,” wrote union leaders, who urged the government to reconsider the stakes.

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