It would take a narrative historian of genius (and infinite patience for unrewarding archival work) to give an account of the wrangling between the two parties in both chambers of our federal legislature during the past two weeks. Many observers have drawn attention to attempts by both parties to use this crisis legislation to further their long-standing agendas (the usual carve-outs for business; a bizarre requirement that beginning in 2023 airplanes provide passengers with real-time estimates of the carbon expended over the day’s flight along with their boarding passes.) But really ideology has played a very minor role in this week-long spectacle of performative disagreement. At one point or another during the debate surrounding the relief package, bills favored at least temporarily by both parties have both featured and rejected means testing, for example, and providing direct cash payments in addition to expanded unemployment benefits.
This is exactly what we have all come to expect from Congress in moments of crisis. Instead of swift, decisive action we are treated to absurd, unserious proposals, partisan theatrics, obstruction for its own sake. It is, after all, what happened in 2008, when Republicans decided that all the relief measures they had supported at the end of the Bush administration had suddenly metamorphosed into “socialism” the moment the junior senator from Illinois took the Oath of Office. It would be hilarious if it weren’t, you know, deadly serious business.