Not breaking: Phase 4 relief bill still stalled -- likely until next month.

Eh, no biggie, right? It’s not as if there’s an ongoing emergency or anything. Congress can now focus on its higher priorities, like renaming post offices or going on vacation, while the White House can obsess over mail-in vote fraud. Everybody wins.

At least the media’s focused on the crisis, right? Er, not so much, as this report from the Washington Post demonstrates by helpfully suggesting that “China” is a race:

A new attempt to restart economic relief negotiations between the White House and Democrats ended just minutes after it began on Wednesday, with President Trump appearing to cast doubt on the whole process by announcing a deal is “not going to happen.”

Just a few days earlier, he had suggested the he was open to a new round of talks.

In declaring the whole process over, Trump used a news conference to criticize Democrats’ proposals for funding election preparations and the Postal Service as part of a broader spending measure. Those were among multiple issues that divided the parties during two weeks of negotiations that initially collapsed Friday before a failed attempt to revive them Wednesday.

“The bill’s not going to happen because they don’t even want to talk about it, because we can’t give them the kind of ridiculous things that they want that have nothing to do with the China virus,” Trump said at the White House during an evening news briefing, using a term criticized as racially insensitive.

It seems embarrassing to have to explain this to a major media outlet, but China is a country, not a race. It happens to be the nation where the virus originated, and the nation that covered up the outbreak and fed misinformation to WHO and the world about it. Calling it the China virus might be diplomatically insensitive (as well as politically convenient for Trump), but it also happens to be accurate, as is calling it the Wuhan virus, which also has nothing to do with race.

Anyway, all sides seem incapable of focusing on the actual crisis. The current hang-up involves money for the US Postal Service, which Democrats want to use to bolster capacity for mass vote-by-mail efforts states plan to launch. The White House opposes those plans, although not for the real reason that they should. Trump opposes it because of large-scale fraud, which isn’t nearly as realistic an issue as massive incompetence:

“The Democrats have abandoned the American people over the simple subject of politics. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are holding the American people hostage over money for the radical, left-wing agenda that the country doesn’t want and won’t accept,” Trump said.

“Now they want to take it countrywide — mail-in voting. It’s going to be the greatest fraud in the history of elections. When you always talk about Russia, Russia, Russia and China, Iran on voting — the biggest problem is going to be with the Democrats, not with China, Russia and Iran.”

How much money do Democrats want in the bill for the US Postal Service? Ten billion dollars for use this year, which at present proposal levels amounts to 0.4% to 1% of the entire bill. As big as it is, it’s a rounding error in the context of proposals to spend between $1 trillion and $2.5 trillion, the latest ask from Democrats. In normal negotiations, we’d call this a bone — something to toss in order to get a similar priority. It’s not as if the USPS can’t use the cash for dealing with COVID-19, nor does agreeing to it make mail-in voting any more or less likely. This is a silly line to draw in the sand.

The better argument, at least in terms of some of the aid components, might be to wait and see what’s still necessary. Today’s jobless-claims report suggests that the expiration of some aid programs might not have pushed the economy off a cliff as many predicted. It’s still a bit too early to tell, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that other temporary interventions (eviction protections especially) might still be needed. This standoff does allow for a real-world test of the necessity for more helicopter money, as scary as that might be.

So what will motivate everyone to get serious? A big reversal on economic metrics would do the trick, the first of which will probably be in the jobless-claims series. That means we are realistically at least a couple of weeks away from an agreement, and maybe as much as a month off. Have fun storming the post-office renaming castle in the meantime.

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Jazz Shaw 1:00 PM | July 14, 2024