Question: What do Democrats and Republicans do when pushing competing spending proposals, even without a crisis at hand?
Answer: Addition. And in this case, with an economic disaster staring the US in its face, there may not be many complaints about it, either. In his press conference this morning to brief the nation on the COVID-19 response, Donald Trump told reporters, “We are going big” while Americans largely stay home:
"We don't want people losing their jobs or not having money to live when they were doing very well just four weeks ago."
President Trump and Secretary Mnuchin announce they want to send money to Americans "now" and plan to be "going big." pic.twitter.com/fooupdo3ha
— MRCTV (@mrctv) March 17, 2020
President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced they’re working on a “big” and “bold” legislative package to address the coronavirus crisis, as the president put it. That includes “looking at sending checks to Americans immediately,” Mnuchin announced during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing Tuesday morning.
Mnuchin said the goal would be to get checks to Americans in two weeks to help workers cope with the economic effects of the crisis. The president wouldn’t say exactly how much those checks might be — Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Mitt Romney have suggested $1,000 per adult.
“We’re going big,” the president told reporters in the White House Briefing Room.
Declaring that “Americans need cash now,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced that part of the package would be direct stimulus:
NEW: Treasury Sec. Steve Mnuchin: "We're looking at sending checks to Americans immediately…and I mean now, in the next two weeks."
— ABC News (@ABC) March 17, 2020
The eventual bill will end up well north of a trillion dollars, Politico predicts, because it’s likely to combine the proposals from both parties rather than divide them for better fiscal discipline. That’s simply not the priority at the moment:
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will meet with Senate Republicans behind closed doors on Tuesday to present lawmakers with options for aid for airlines, hotels, casinos and small-to-medium-sized businesses. The White House was pushing for a package of more than $800 billion, POLITICO reported Monday, and on Tuesday the Treasury Department was preparing to unveil a package of $850 billion including more than $50 billion for the airline industry, $250 billion for small-business support and $500 billion for a payroll tax holiday. A senior administration official acknowledged the proposal could climb above that Tuesday by the time it’s unveiled.
Democrats are pushing their own package of provisions that don’t overlap entirely with the GOP pitch. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats are pitching a package of “at least” $750 billion that is expected to include more emergency aid for hospitals, expanded unemployment insurance, more funds for small business, help with child care, and food assistance for seniors.
The size and scope of the package are morphing rapidly as the economic and market damage mounts. Senate Republicans and the White House are exploring how to fast-track existing legislation with the upcoming stimulus packages.
With the public demanding action on all these fronts, and with markets signaling panic, the safest course would be to take an all-of-the-above approach. As Trump says in the clip above, that would provide a comprehensive plan that didn’t keep requiring Congress to continually update the stimulus planning. The all-in strategy would put the latest stimulus bill well over a trillion dollars, on top of the $100 billion that has already been passed by the House — but didn’t get to the Senate until early this morning.
Of course, all this addition requires a lessening of division. The prospects for that didn’t look terribly bright yesterday and this morning. House Democrats had chided Mitch McConnell for allowing the Senate to leave on Thursday, but they returned yesterday without a bill to consider. Chuck Grassley ripped House Democrats for playing politics rather than buckling down:
The Senate can’t pass a House bill until the House passes it first. Dems misled Americans by blaming @senatemajldr for not holding a vote over the weekend.
We received the Families First Coronavirus Response Act TODAY at 9:48 AM.
This is no time for partisan politics.
— Sen. Grassley Press (@GrassleyPress) March 17, 2020
Perhaps more bipartisanship can be found in the strategy rather than the execution. Most of the incentives will be aimed at businesses and employees to make good decisions over the next few weeks, Tom Cotton said today on the Senate floor, in order to flatten the curve of transmission:
Our top priority: suppress the virus by making sure no one—not a single person in this country—has to go to work when they're sick, or when they even may be feeling sick, because they can't get support from the government. pic.twitter.com/CVi5uZZCf0
— Tom Cotton (@SenTomCotton) March 17, 2020
In the end, the healing power of addition will solve all these problems. It will also leave us with a whopping fiscal hangover, but if we can survive the next few weeks without cratering the economy and sending millions to virtual unemployment lines, we can predict that few will mind.