Democrats’ strategic debacle continued apace this morning as news organizations report on their last-minute renege on the coronavirus relief package late yesterday. This is more of a headline than a substantive report, but nevertheless NBC’s Today show makes it clear that Democrats obstructed the bill. If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer expected the media to carry their water, thus far they have miscalculated:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 23, 2020
Despite some headline revisions yesterday on their initial reporting, the New York Times has opted this morning for clarity:
Senate Democrats on Sunday blocked action on an emerging deal to prop up an economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, paralyzing the progress of a nearly $2 trillion government rescue package they said failed to adequately protect workers or impose strict enough restrictions on bailed-out businesses. …
In voting to block action, Democrats risked a political backlash if they are seen as obstructing progress on a measure that is widely regarded as crucial to aid desperate Americans and prop up a flagging economy. But they argued the vote on Sunday was premature given their remaining reservations about the measure, while Republicans heaped criticism on them for creating uncertainty for both the public and the markets.
“This is irresponsible and unwise,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. “They are playing with fire.”
The move enraged Republicans, whose numbers were dwindling after Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky announced on Sunday that he had contracted the coronavirus and prompted two other senators to self-isolate and miss the vote that evening. The Democratic maneuver, they argued, contravened days of bipartisan negotiations and jeopardized faith that Congress was capable of mustering a legislative salve for a shuddering economy.
Democrats got slightly more favorable treatment in the Washington Post, where the headline focuses on the “clash between Republicans and Democrats.” The lead places the blame for obstruction squarely on Democrats, however:
Senate Democrats blocked a massive coronavirus stimulus bill from moving forward Sunday as partisan disputes raged over the legislation aimed at arresting the economy’s precipitous decline.
Lawmakers had hoped to pass the enormous $1.8 trillion bill by Monday, but Sunday night they were scrambling to revive talks, with the stock market poised for another sharp drop and households and businesses fretting about an uncertain future.
The Los Angeles Times avoids the blame game, opting instead for a focus on the agreement that a bill is needed quickly:
Although both parties said they agreed on the urgency of passing a measure quickly as unemployment rapidly mounts and jittery markets prepared to reopen Monday, the two sides remained at loggerheads on several key issues, including how much money to provide state and local governments faced with the crisis and how much authority to give administration officials to decide which major businesses to bail out.
As lawmakers and their staffs prepared to meet into the wee hours, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), warned of “an ugly” Monday in financial markets without a deal. He planned to try again to bring to the floor a key procedural vote on Monday.
“Our nation cannot afford a game of chicken,” McConnell said, adding that he hoped for a “change of heart” from Democrats.
But Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said he had been meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, representing the administration, and that there was a “good chance we’ll have an agreement” in the morning.
The hardball tactics from both parties came at the end of a weekend of negotiations among rank-and-file lawmakers and between congressional leaders and Mnuchin.
That might be more notable for the dog that didn’t bark. Normally, the media frames disputes as GOP generated, with political machinations generally credited to Republicans. The media’s “Republicans pounce” narrative has been used so much that it has become practically a drinking game. The lack of pouncing in the LAT’s story — indeed, the lack of any hint of politics — is at least a failure of Democrats’ attempts to blame Republicans for any impasse.
The two sides will do their best to patch things up before the next vote, which has been moved to noon ET after Schumer objected to McConnell’s 9:45 motion. The markets are going to panic if Congress can’t take effective action quickly, which matters a lot more than who gets blamed for this mess. Voters’ retirement security is burning away while Schumer and Pelosi fiddle on Capitol Hill. McConnell will likely propose a fig leaf of more oversight on Treasury’s management of the bailout fund and perhaps incorporate Donald Trump’s suggestion of a restriction on stock buy-backs, made in yesterday’s presser. If that’s what it takes to get a deal done and restore confidence in leadership, both McConnell and Schumer had better do it.
And Schumer should fire whoever’s handling Democrats’ political strategy in 2020.