Ron Johnson blocks Josh Hawley's attempt to add $1,200 stimulus checks to COVID relief bill

A neat clash here between the old GOP and the new GOP — although I’m old enough to remember when Johnson himself was the “new GOP.” He was elected during the tea-party wave of 2010, sent to Washington to show the big-spending RINOs that we can’t continue to rob younger generations blind by borrowing to pay for programs we can’t afford.

Ten years later, long after the tea-party movement deteriorated into MAGA, he finds himself at odds with a young, aspiring presidential candidate from his party in the person of Josh Hawley. Johnson’s conservative populism has given way to Hawley’s nationalist populism: Of course we should spend to help working families. The country’s mired in a devastating economic crisis that’s about to turn catastrophic as juiced-up federal unemployment benefits run out and the eviction moratorium expires. Millions of people are behind on their rent, and not a little behind either. They desperately, desperately need one more round of help from Uncle Sam to weather this storm until the vaccine returns the country to something resembling normalcy.

I side with Hawley on the merits even though I disdain his grandstanding style in the clip below, partly because of the urgency of the crisis and partly because it’s absurd for Johnson to draw a line in the sand on spending at the eleventh hour of the pandemic. Congress has spent trillions to help people get this through nightmare; they also spent trillions *before COVID arrived*, running unfathomable deficits during the first three years of Trump’s term despite gangbusters economic growth. Now RonJohn wants to tighten his belt?

Cut the frigging checks, already. By trying to signal his seriousness of purpose in standing up to Hawley, Johnson’s actually signaling how unserious he is. The time for big speeches about the deficit was before the pandemic. If he and the rest of the GOP had nothing to say to Trump then, only to regain their fiscal-hawk bearings the moment a Democrat was en route to the White House, then clearly they were never committed to smaller government on the merits. They cared about it only as a political cudgel against the left. That’s disgraceful in isolation, but in the context of blocking aid to millions who dearly need it, it’s repulsive.

It led RonJohn into a very bad soundbite too:

He ended up calling for “lower regulation” and a “competitive tax system” to help solve the unemployment crisis. Which is fine tea-party dogma, but feels vaguely like calling for improvements to skyscraper structural integrity upon hearing that hijacked jets are inbound towards the World Trade Center. There’s no time for long-term solutions. Address the immediate problem.

According to WaPo, Trump nearly put out a statement yesterday one-upping Hawley by demanding $2,000 stimulus checks. That’s a fine idea but it would have been much finer six months ago, not when the parties are in the final hours of a delicate negotiation that could fall apart at any moment if either side makes a sudden move. His aides convinced him to hold off for precisely that reason. Although it may not matter: the Times says that another sticking point is threatening to sink the deal this afternoon.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. pushed back on Friday on a Republican effort to use an emerging stimulus deal to bar the Federal Reserve from restarting a series of pandemic relief programs, weighing in on a last-minute dispute that was hampering final agreement on the $900 billion package.

The proposal, which would bar the central bank from reviving emergency lending efforts that expire at year’s end and potentially limit its ability to fight future financial crises, emerged on Friday as perhaps the thorniest point of contention holding up the stimulus agreement. It could take away some of the Fed’s power as a “lender of last resort,” and curtail Mr. Biden’s latitude in dealing with the continuing economic fallout from the pandemic…

A senior Democratic aide said that an agreement had been in sight before Senator Patrick Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, moved to insert a measure to bar a future Treasury secretary from restarting Fed emergency loan programs. The programs have kept credit flowing to medium-sized businesses, state and local governments and corporations amid the pandemic. Concern centered on the breadth of Mr. Toomey’s proposal: It would prohibit both those programs and any “similar” one, which could curb the Fed’s future ability to keep credit flowing to states and businesses.

Fiscal hawks want to reel in the Fed’s lending powers before Biden takes office, fearing that the emergency authority it’s enjoyed during the COVID crisis will be exploited by Democrats and end up becoming a permanent feature of how the Fed operates. Biden and the Dems say they need those emergency powers intact to give them flexibility in stimulating the economy during the first half of next year in case the new COVID relief package — which is much smaller than what Democrats initially sought — doesn’t quite do the job. While Hawley and Johnson are wrangling over checks, the entire deal may run off the rails because of the Fed.

There’s also the small matter of a looming shutdown this weekend. House and Senate leaders are talking about passing another stopgap spending measure to get them through the next week, in hopes of hashing out a deal before Christmas. But Hawley is irritated about the resistance to his demand for stimulus checks and even more irritated about the fact that it’s Friday and he has yet to even see a draft bill of the government funding deal that the House and Senate are working on. “I’m not willing to just sit by and be told nothing and be given no information and just be asked to do as you’re told,” he told reporters. Is he going to force a shutdown, or threaten to force one, as leverage to get Republicans to play ball on direct stimulus payments?

Exit question: Are there 12 Republican votes in the Senate for Hawley’s proposal? If he can’t beat a filibuster in pushing for COVID checks then all he’s really doing here is cutting a 2024 campaign commercial.