One can always count on Congress to do the right thing — after it exhausts all other possibilities first. With stock markets reeling and Americans growing more nervous about the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of both parties and both chambers on Capitol Hill understood the need to bolster the US economy in the weeks ahead. Unfortunately, it took an embarrassing sequence of partisan games and demands for recess before they could finally come to a deal all sides could accept.
Actually, they’re not quite there yet, but at least they’re getting closer:
The Trump administration and congressional Democrats neared agreement Thursday night on an economic relief package to help people impacted by the coronavirus, with both sides under enormous pressure to act to address the spiraling crisis.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she expected a vote Friday ”one way or another” to approve the package, which is expected to amount to several tens of billions of dollars.
“We’ve resolved most of our differences, and those we haven’t we’ll continue to have a conversation — because there will obviously be other bills,” Pelosi told reporters outside of her office in the Capitol, at the end of a long day of intense talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The problem with House Democrats’ bill was that it didn’t actually have as much to do with the coronavirus as it did with their political hobby horses. The language was structured in such a way that medical-health spending would have created a loophole in the Hyde Amendment, an annual budget rider that prohibits federal spending on abortions. Republicans accused Nancy Pelosi of hijacking the bill to advance her anti-Hyde agenda,
At the moment, that issue appears to have been resolved, but others remain. One key sticking point is the application of paid-leave support. In the original House bill, there was no sunset and the language would have put the entire onus on employers, making this a permanent public policy change rather than an emergency measure:
At the center of the negotiations is a dispute over paid leave provisions in the Democrats’ initial bill. The legislation would require employers to let workers accrue seven days of leave that would apply in future public health emergencies, on top of an immediate 14 days of leave due to coronavirus-related work stoppages.
Republicans have been pressing to use the incentive of tax credits to employers rather than government mandates to make paid emergency and sick leave available to workers, according to multiple sources who spoke on condition they not be identified due to the sensitivity of the talks.
GOP negotiators also object to administering the paid leave program through the Social Security Administration. Under one proposal under discussion, that benefit could be moved to the jurisdiction of the Labor Department, two people with knowledge of the talks said. …
McConnell also criticized the House bill during a floor speech Thursday morning.
“The speaker’s proposal would stand up a needless thicket of new bureaucracy,” he said. “As currently drafted, their proposal appears to impose permanent unfunded mandates on businesses that could cause massive job losses and put thousands of small businesses at risk.”
Pelosi still wants to hold a vote today in the House, but it’s not yet clear on what. Unless the Senate gets a bill they can either accept or modify to send back to the House for a later vote, it won’t matter much what Pelosi does. That leaves relief on hold for the most part, and Trump controlling whatever else can actually get accomplished without Congress. If Pelosi doesn’t negotiate in good faith, she’s setting herself up for a deluge of blame for any failure to respond to the economic aspects of the crisis. That’s especially true if she sends the House on a recess while Mitch McConnell holds the Senate in session.
Eventually, Pelosi will realize this. She just has to do everything wrong first.