It’s very clear what the Democrats’ grand strategy is in wanting to go big on a new stimulus, less clear what the GOP’s is in wanting to go small. But today’s vote on the $500 billion Senate Republican “skinny” stimulus is really just a blame game for both sides.
In a 52-to-47 procedural vote, the bill failed to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Democrats.
Senator Rand Paul was the only Republican who voted against the measure. No Democrats voted for the bill.
The bill included school aid, expanded unemployment benefits of $300 more per week, and authorized new loans for small businesses. Democrats opposed the bill because it did not include state and local government relief, food aid, or rental and mortgage assistance. The bill also did not include a second $1,200 direct payment to individual Americans.
The only senator not voting: Kamala Harris, who’s busy with more important things these days.
The fact that the bill got 52 votes is a minor victory for Mitch McConnell, as his caucus spent most of the summer divided on whether to go biggish, go small, or go nowhere at all, eschewing a new round of stimulus altogether lest America’s national debt grow even more grotesquely huge. If the party had failed to produce 51 votes for any bill, it would have handed Democrats a gift-wrapped talking point that Republicans alone are to blame for the lack of further economic relief for taxpayers. (“They can’t even agree among themselves!”) McConnell’s task was to put together a package that could get to 51, which would force Senate Dems to vote it down. Then vulnerable incumbents like Cory Gardner and Susan Collins could go back home and tell voters that they wanted to restore some beefed-up unemployment benefits for laid-off workers but Chuck Schumer and the caucus of “no” refused to go along. In the end, Cocaine Mitch succeeded. Now Dems are stuck arguing on the campaign trail that Republicans are too stingy in helping taxpayers in their hour of need, not that they refused to do anything at all.
As I say, the Pelosi/Schumer strategy is obvious. Go big, big, big on the new stimulus — the House passed a $3.5 trillion package a few months ago — then agree to come down only a little, to $2 trillion or so, to seem reasonable-ish while maintaining the political advantage of offering more money than Republicans. No doubt Pelosi was hoping all along that the GOP would never agree to meet her exorbitant demands, leading to a breakdown in talks, a failure to provide any new stimulus, and an economic downturn before the election that would wash Trump and various congressional Republicans out of office.
What’s harder to explain is why the GOP didn’t grit its teeth and call her bluff by compromising with her on $2 trillion. The obvious answer is “Because they’re the party of fiscal responsibility and they’re worried about the debt, dummy!” That would have been a believable answer circa 2011, at the height of tea-party fever; it’s not a believable answer today, many trillions of dollars in debt later. It’s especially weird considering we’re two months out from an election — the most important election in history, we’re constantly reminded — and voters tend to blame the party that controls the White House for their economic problems. In fact, recent polls suggest that Trump’s lead over Biden on the economy, his greatest electoral strength, has already begun to erode:
Today’s vote allows the GOP to say, “We wanted hundred of billions in new aid and Democrats wouldn’t go along!” To which Democrats will reply, “We wanted four times as much in aid, including new stimulus checks, but Republicans wouldn’t go along!” If you’re a laid-off worker facing eviction because you can’t make rent, which pitch is more likely to resonate? We’ll find out in two months.
Weirdest of all is the fact that the White House itself was reluctant to come up to $2 trillion for Pelosi. You can imagine a scenario in which Trump wants to compromise with Democrats, if only to make sure he’s not exposed on the economy before Election Day, but some of the tea-party alumni in the Senate say no because they’re suddenly pretending to care about fiscal responsibility again. Some of those senators *did* balk at the price tag for another big stimulus this time — as noted, Rand Paul voted no — but if Trump had twisted their arms and threatened to blame them for his defeat in November if they didn’t sign on to whatever bill he wanted, how many of them would have stood their ground? The reason there was no compromise with Pelosi is because the White House itself was reluctant to spend another $2 trillion on relief, which is admirable from a fiscal-conservative standpoint but, uh, uncharacteristic. And damned strange given the potential electoral consequences.
My favorite theory about the fiscal hawks in the GOP caucus suddenly rediscovering their principles is that they’re convinced Trump will lose this fall no matter what they do, so they’re getting a jump on refashioning themselves as tea partiers again ahead of next spring. I’m not sure how well it’s going to work out for them, though, to remind voters next year that they wanted to cheap out on the last round of COVID stimulus while Biden’s party wanted to toss money at them from helicopters.
Here’s Pelosi getting her shots in this afternoon. Trump is reportedly considering a new round of executive action to show voters that he’s trying to ease the financial pressure on them, but there’s only so much he can do. He can’t get new unemployment benefits rolling and he can’t get stimulus checks sent out. Everything else is noise, really.
Speaker Pelosi on Senate GOP coronavirus funding proposal: “Let's not have a 'skinny' bill when we have a massive problem." pic.twitter.com/lWiSAtEeej
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) September 10, 2020