If the plan was to get independents pissed off at the president for not making a deal, that plan would seem to have a conspicuous flaw.
Pelosi’s trapped in a pincer movement. On the right, she has Trump suddenly endorsing a stimulus deal in urgent terms, even trying to bid her up. That complicates the Democratic strategy of refusing to make a deal and then accusing the White House of not having been generous enough when talks break down. They can’t hope to match the size of Trump’s media megaphone and they also can’t necessarily rely on average voters to inform themselves of the particulars on why a deal hasn’t been reached thus far. When Americans see Trump tweeting stuff like “WE NEED A DEAL NOW, GO BIG!”, they’ll logically conclude that the president’s not the main stumbling block here. Pelosi can try to counter that by insisting that it’s not the size of the stimulus that matters most, it’s how money is allocated among the component parts, but most voters don’t get into the weeds on policy. She can also try to counterprogram Trump by insisting that Senate Republicans are the main obstacle, as they’re the only player opposed to a big package, but that’s hard for voters to grasp when the leader of the GOP is broadcasting his willingness to go even higher than Democrats will.
She’s also getting pressure from the left to bite the bullet and make a deal with Trump. Progressives like Ro Khanna are less concerned with electoral politics than with the fact that fiscal relief really is needed urgently for working-class people who can’t find a job in the pandemic and also can’t make rent next month. It is … unusual to find lefties begging the Democratic establishment to compromise with the right on grounds that half a loaf is better than none, but that’s where we are right now.
More and more pieces lately are appearing in liberal publications urging Pelosi to make a deal with Trump before it’s too late. Yesterday Eric Levitz at New York magazine gave her three reasons to do so: (1) The economic outlook is turning desperate, (2) Dems might benefit at the polls if Trump and Pelosi agree and then McConnell’s GOP caucus kills the package, and (3) it’s possible that Biden will win the presidency but Republicans will retain the Senate, which will make a stimulus deal in January all but impossible.
It is entirely possible that Biden takes power with McConnell as captain of the Senate. Even with a Republican in the White House facing down an election-year recession, McConnell’s far-right caucus has been loath to approve stimulus. With a Democrat in the White House, there’s little doubt that they would block any relief package of a $1.8 trillion scope.
And this means that — if Democrats do not secure aid now — there is a significant chance that Biden will inherit a deepening recession, and no viable means of addressing it. In other words: There is a significant chance Biden’s presidency will be over before it starts.
A GOP strategist who has been consulting with Senate campaigns said Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.
If a Republican Senate is destined to roadblock a stimulus deal in January under a new administration, Pelosi should try to make them roadblock one right now by making a deal with Trump so that voters can see for themselves before they go to the polls which party to this negotiation is the chief obstacle to a deal. If instead she continues to resist Trump, voters may shrug off the whole thing — as they seem to be doing in the poll up top — in the belief that it’s just another mindless, frustrating partisan standoff. That may be the difference between Democrats winning control of the Senate narrowly and Republicans retaining it narrowly.
There is one potential benefit for Dems in not reaching a deal before the election, though. If they go on to win a Senate majority on Election Day anyway, and if in fact the new Republican minority is hellbent on trying to block a stimulus deal next January, Schumer will have an ideal pretext to nuke the filibuster. Americans will be leery of getting rid of the Senate minority’s best procedural weapon if it’s done to advance some core Democratic wishlist item, like the Green New Deal or Court-packing. But if it’s done to advance a bill which virtually everyone agrees is urgently needed, the public might be more willing to go along. I used to think that universal background checks for firearms was the ideal Dem issue on which to get rid of the filibuster since support for that is so high across all three partisan groups in polling, but a stimulus would be even better.
Which also means it might be in the Senate GOP’s interest to go along with a stimulus deal now. (Only 13 Republicans would be needed, assuming all Democrats in the Senate vote yes.) Not only would they give Trump a boost before Election Day and avoid becoming his scapegoat if no deal is reached and he ends up losing, they would avert the scenario in which Schumer has an easy justification for ending the filibuster next year. If Dems are intent on doing that, Republicans want to make it as politically costly for them as possible. Blocking a stimulus would do the opposite, rallying the public to Schumer’s side in going nuclear.
Here’s Chris Hayes on the left’s favorite network last night musing that it seems a “little nuts” that Pelosi won’t take a deal for $1.8 trillion.
"It contains all sorts of giveaways, so the president can just give away money, and leaves out huge numbers of things that are needed to help people," Sen. Schumer says of White House $1.8T Covid-19 relief offer. "Nancy is right to reject it…They are just playing a game." pic.twitter.com/AemE1ws0wY
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) October 14, 2020