This post originally appeared on The American Prospect.
People are very invested in the concept of calling Mitch McConnell’s bluff. I don’t know if every political observer’s brains have been wiped clean of all evidence since 2008 or what, but there’s this thinking that you can’t really pin the failure of any second round of economic relief on McConnell until Nancy Pelosi joins hands with Donald Trump and dares him to reject it.
Well, he’s already rejected it. Explicitly. As in “McConnell says he will not put $1.8 trillion stimulus bill on Senate floor,” as a headline. That anvil is already fully tied to the legs of Senate Republicans. This idea that it’s hard for McConnell to reject things is at odds with all past experience. There are hundreds of pieces of legislation lying fallow, one more won’t really change anything.
And as for it being impossible to assign political blame unless Pelosi acquiesces, well, no, you have the Senate Majority Leader saying he won’t agree to the legislation, and if you can’t make hay with that you shouldn’t be in politics. In fact Senate Democratic challengers are doing just that, and that’s why they’re advancing, in places like Kansas and Alaska and North Carolina (despite a sexting scandal). Here’s Steve Bullock going after Steve Daines over stimulus in Montana, and Theresa Greenfield going after Joni Ernst in Iowa. The anger at Pelosi for denying Democrats a political win is coming mostly from D.C. pundits; if they’d look past the federal district, they’d understand that the political win is already in hand.
Meanwhile McConnell is going to put a “targeted” relief on the Senate floor on Monday. We don’t know a heck of a lot about it, frankly. It appears that it will look approximately like the bill that failed, with the support of all Senate Republicans but one, last month. That included another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, minor amounts of money for unemployment and schools and hospitals, and McConnell’s cherished liability relief proposal to immunize companies whose workers and customers get infected with COVID-19. According to McConnell, some checks “for those who have been hit the hardest” have also been included. It clocks in at around $500 billion, far less than the $1.8 trillion White House offer.
The bill on Monday serves two goals: it gets McConnell to say the Senate acted on relief first, before the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, which will be taken up on Friday. And it gives vulnerable Republicans in tight races a chance to say they did something to mitigate the economic damage.
My initial thought here was, why couldn’t Chuck Schumer call the bluff? If Democrats just don’t filibuster and this bill passes, the House could ask to go to conference with it and the $3 trillion-plus Heroes Act. When McConnell declines, then you’d reinforce the source of the delay on Capitol Hill. Indeed, this is under consideration, as Democrats haven’t committed to blocking the skinny relief bill.
But McConnell has some procedural options that would deny even that. Back in September, Schumer managed by a fantastical circumstance to get the floor, and he set up a vote on healthcare, really a message bill to force Republicans to choose a side. McConnell reacted with an unusual vote that gave Republicans the opportunity to claim they supported pre-existing condition protections. The nature of that vote is what’s interesting. It wasn’t a vote to advance the bill; it was a motion to table an amendment to existing legislation. Though Republicans brought it up, they were all the No votes, voting to allow further debate. Democrats voted to table.
That motion failed on a 47-47 party-line vote, but nothing further was done with it. In other words, Republicans “won” the vote but didn’t proceed. That’s what kind of bill McConnell could make the relief package. It would be an amendment to a shell bill, and the motion would be to table it. If Democrats lost that vote, the amendment wouldn’t go anywhere; it’s purely messaging. And they certainly wouldn’t be able to go to conference.
In other words, the bill McConnell’s bringing on Monday is likely to be a fake bill. Nothing about his process is sincere, because he doesn’t want to provide an ounce of help to a future Joe Biden presidency, and is indeed seeding the ground for a snap return to austerity and fiscal probity. You don’t need Nancy Pelosi doing whatever Nancy Pelosi does to tell that story.
And just to be clear: Pelosi and the Democrats set the stage for this in March by passing inadequate relief that ended before the national emergency, and giving up their leverage. I get why people are angry that nothing can be done now, but… nothing can be done now.
Days Without a Bailout Oversight Chair
Today I Learned
- Inside the fall of the CDC. (ProPublica)
- Claudia Sahm on the Federal Reserve’s failure to help ordinary people amid Washington dysfunction. (New York Times)
- One of the brightest notes for the future: the IMF says austerity is not required to offset pandemic-related fiscal spending. (Financial Times)
- The European second wave is here. (Axios)
- OSHA isn’t requiring data from employers on COVID-related hospitalizations. (HuffPost)
- Remdesivir, it turns out, doesn’t do much to reduce deaths in patients, according to a large international study, though the implementation in different countries could be part of the problem. (New York Times)
- Actors are booking ads by getting their family members, the only people they can be in the same room with, to appear with them. (Wall Sreet Journal)