How long can Nancy Pelosi keep holding out on a compromise COVID-19 relief bill? Her meltdown on CNN with Wolf Blitzer suggests she’s feeling the pressure from within her caucus now as well as outside of it. Rep. Ro Khanna had gone public to push Pelosi into accepting Steve Mnuchin’s latest $1.8 trillion offer, a plan that even some Senate Republicans appeared to oppose. One might think that even a middling tactician would see the value in calling a presidential bluff in that situation.
Instead, Pelosi insists on giving Republicans and Donald Trump the upper hand on this issue, even while it starts to emerge in polling. Trump is smart enough to double down on an advantage, even if he’s still bluffing:
“Republicans are ready to go”? Er … maybe. Mitch McConnell will force a vote on a “skinny” package next week that only includes PPP and a handful of other payroll-support funding, with not even the direct stimulus payments in the mix (at least thus far). So far, the word out of the Senate GOP caucus on any bill with Mnuchin’s price tag has been no.
If Pelosi doesn’t want to call Trump’s bluff, more and more members of her own caucus do. The Daily Beast reports this morning that a mutiny may be brewing among House Democrats who want half a loaf before the election. And they’re about to embarrass Pelosi by talking about it publicly if she doesn’t get off the $400 billion dime, so to speak:
A small but expanding group of Democrats across the party’s ideological spectrum are preparing to push Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to accept the $1.8 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin last week, citing escalating concerns about unemployment and ongoing struggles of Americans.
Two members of the Democratic caucus, Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) and Peter Welch (D-VT), have privately discussed their desires for the California leader to accept the deal put before them and are now ready to make those pleas public, The Daily Beast has learned.
While many Democrats are happy to back Pelosi’s position, those angling for a faster alternative are hoping to create a pressure campaign within the caucus.
“Rep. Welch does not want to wait,” spokesman Lincoln Peek told The Daily Beast on Wednesday evening in reference to a question about moving forward with a deal below the $2.2 trillion proposal favored by House Democratic leadership. “Welch has consistently pushed to come to a deal as soon as possible as long as it moves us forward in trying to address the public health and economic crises.”
“The suffering is real, the need is urgent, and we need aid now,” Peek said.
Is it too late? Not really, although the direct stimulus payments won’t get into the hands of many American before Election Day, even if it passed both chambers today and got signed by Trump before 5 pm. The biggest issue is the impending layoffs coming by employers who are worried that the expansion has stalled. That’s especially true in travel and entertainment industries that have used payroll supports to keep salaries flowing. Passage of the bill would allow those employers to keep payrolls operating with the certainty of more support on the way.
Is it necessary, though? That’s arguable, but today’s report on weekly initial jobless claims doesn’t look promising. The drop in paid benefits looks rosier, though:
In the week ending October 10, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 898,000, an increase of 53,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised up by 5,000 from 840,000 to 845,000. The 4-week moving average was 866,250, an increase of 8,000 from the previous week’s revised average. The previous week’s average was revised up by 1,250 from 857,000 to 858,250.
The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 6.8 percent for the week ending October 3, a decrease of 0.9 percentage point from the previous week’s revised rate. The previous week’s rate was revised up by 0.2 from 7.5 to 7.7 percent. The advance number for seasonally adjusted insured unemployment during the week ending October 3 was 10,018,000, a decrease of 1,165,000 from the previous week’s revised level. The previous week’s level was revised up 207,000 from 10,976,000 to 11,183,000. The 4-week moving average was 11,481,750, a decrease of 682,250 from the previous week’s revised average. The previous week’s average was revised up by 51,750 from 12,112,250 to 12,164,000.
Those on paid benefits have declined over thirteen million since mid-June, which is a very good sign. However, having nearly a million Americans a week file first-time jobless claims is not a good sign, and that churn will get worse when new lockdowns or restrictions get put in place for spot outbreaks of COVID-19 in the fall and winter.
Pelosi’s debate partner isn’t happy about this either:
The economic pain in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic continues non-stop. The U.S. Department of Labor has just reported that another 898,000 Americans had to file for initial unemployment claims just last week. This is so sad.
— Wolf Blitzer (@wolfblitzer) October 15, 2020
The risk for Pelosi is in the potential for a discharge petition emerging from disaffected Democrats aligning with Republicans on Mnuchin’s last bid. Normally a discharge petition is used by the minority party to force a floor vote on a bill. Neither House Republicans nor the “Problem Solvers Caucus” has made use of this mechanism so far in this funding fight, probably because more conservative House Republicans won’t back another massive spending bill. However, this insurrection could end up getting so many Democrats that it won’t require all of the House Republicans to pull it off.
If a discharge petition succeeds and cuts Pelosi out of the negotiations, her speakership is toast. It will likely spell an end to Pelosi’s entire leadership caste in the House Democratic caucus, too. She’s going all in on brinksmanship, and Pelosi might end up losing everything because of it — including the upcoming election if she won’t cut a deal, or at least force the issue back on McConnell.