New COVID aid bill held hostage by myopic Senators

Inside D.C.

New COVID aid bill held hostage by myopic Senators

While it may be little more than a media tactic in this election year, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last this week told reporters there’s been so little progress between Republicans and Democrats on a fourth COVID 19 economic stimulus bill, he’s just not sure if Congress can enact a compromise bill before the Senate recesses next week until September 8.

If Meadows’ “guess” turns out to be correct – that the GOP-controlled Senate heads home to campaign without a new stimulus sitting on the president’s desk — then the Republican party, in my book, officially qualifies as the party politically dumber than a box of rocks, as my mom used to say. It belies their notion there’s a known end date to the COVID 19 disaster, that stuff will get better during August, and all they need do is a couple of minor, temporary fixes.  

This is not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R, KY) first rodeo, he’s not stupid and he’s in one of the toughest reelection races of his career. Congress has demonstrated it can wrestle with messy political situations reconcile them in a matter of days, if not hours.  In the end, it requires both sides to want the end goal badly enough that compromises can be wrung from both. The challenge now is getting done a package that actually helps working folks, small businesses, and local governments.

The House Democrats approved two months ago a $3-trillion “phase four” HEROES Act, arguably an overgenerous stimulus package chock full of Democrat policy riders unrelated to the pandemic or economic relief.  This is to be expected in an election year.  For his part, McConnell rolled out last week the Senate GOP’s HEALS Act, a $1-trillion package, claiming legitimate concerns about bloated national debt and a hemorrhaging deficit for its comparatively low price tag. His worries are totally legit, but it’s about $4 trillion-plus in new spending late to be crying fiscal responsibility tears.

The adults in both parties know what they need do.  They’re fully aware which, of all the “stimulus” actions taken so far, are popular with and working for the working Jane/Joe and the business world.  The GOP call to trim supplemental unemployment assistance – which expires today – can be bumped higher than $200 a week; the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) needs buffing up; existing programs need end-date extensions; “temporary” federal tax credits and other relief need a new life, and so on.  Such actions will cost more than $1 trillion, but significantly less than $3 trillion.

McConnell controls the Senate schedule.  He has threatened to ignore recess dates for years over his frustrations with judicial nomination votes and smaller spending battles, even in the face of White House angst.  As for campaigning, to recess the Senate without approving a compromise stimulus bill is tantamount to handing at least a couple of Senate seats – if not majority control of the chamber – to the Democrats, further strengthening the House Democrat majority and making President Trump’s already uphill road to reelection even steeper.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) holds the whip hand in this contest right now, having already unleashed her personal and party attacks on the GOP broadly and the Senate specifically.  Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, NY) is her Senate echo, but both are correct when they say the Democrats did their job.  This permits a simple message: The GOP, from the White House on down, doesn’t care about country.  This noise will continue to resonate more loudly until the entire Congress acts responsibly.

My guess is Meadows is wrong.  The Senate will act on something next week, if only to put the political monkey back on the House Democrats’ back.  It will be a messy, noisy process with lots of finger pointing; it could be next weekend before it happens, but it will happen and both sides will hit the hustings back home taking credit for whatever it turns out to be.  Then the monkey is on Trump’s back.