23 December 2020

I Thought That the Crazy Season Was Supposed to End with the Election

My loyal reader(s) are no doubt aware that I was unimpressed with the stimulus package that the Congressional Democrats capitulated themselves into.

It appears that Donald Trump is equally unempressed, as he is strongly implying that he will veto the bill if the individual payments are not increased from $600 to $2,000:

President Trump’s last-minute move to reject a sweeping coronavirus relief package is escalating confusion and panic among Republicans while setting the stage for an uncomfortable confrontation Thursday that could lead GOP lawmakers to object to their own president’s demand for larger stimulus checks for Americans.

The chaos is unfolding against the backdrop of another threatened government shutdown, with funding set to lapse starting Tuesday unless a spending bill to keep federal operations running is signed into law along with the virus aid bill. While the president hasn’t explicitly threatened a veto, his defiance of a deal negotiated by his own administration could spark a standoff that could conceivably last until Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Wednesday that Democrats would seek to pass a bill at a short Thursday House session that would provide $2,000 checks, though the measure could easily be blocked by Republicans, as it would require unanimous consent from House members.

I would note here that Pelosi could bulldoze her way through the requirement for unanimous consent, but she doesn't want the $2,000.00 payment either. 

They could write a 2 page bill, and get it though in 1 or 2 days.

It would be good politics and good policy, but for whatever reason, Pelosi is not willing to call Trump's bluff.

The politics of this are fascinating:


Trump started by decrying “wasteful” spending in the relief bill, tallying up a bunch of funny-sounding programs (amberjack fish, haha! Asian carp! Poultry production technology!). I believe all these programs are in the omnibus section of the bill, not the COVID relief section. First, it’s a stupid gimmick to define programs in a couple words that are actually pretty vital. (Poultry production technology would add efficiencies and perhaps save lives in the production process, to use one example. Here’s an entire conference about it.) Second, the spending, while not wasteful, also doesn’t add up to much. The fourteen programs explicitly identified total $3.849 billion, in a bill of $2.2 trillion (between the $1.3 trillion discretionary spending and the $892 billion in COVID relief.

Trump went on to say that the $600 direct payments in the bill were “ridiculously low,” and that he wanted $2,000, gesturing toward cutting the “wasteful” spending and using the proceeds. Trump didn’t quite say he would veto the whole package, just that he would “ask Congress to amend” it.

For the record, it would cost about $380 billion to increase the value of the payments by $1,400, and Trump identified $3.8 billion. I did the math, his calculations would add $13.91 to everyone’s check. But the numbers sound big in nominal terms, so he gets away with relying on the innumeracy of the public. But who cares about the cost when people are suffering? We have skyrocketing poverty and falling personal income. Checks for $2,000 are obviously better than $600.


But that universe of people, while in need, is about 2-3 percent of the total workforce. By contrast something like 80 percent of the public, everyone making $100,000 or less, is getting the check. From a messaging standpoint of “what’s in it for me,” that’s just going to take precedence. Moreover, you can see the two payments, from CARES and this bill, as a leveler of decades of soaring inequality, and really the least you can do for a population that has had the rules of capitalism rigged against them. Even if they weren’t means tested, giving everyone thousands of dollars means more to those at the lower end.

The politics, then, argue for higher payments. It was Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans who kept them artificially low. Now here comes Trump asking for them to be nearly tripled. It’s amazing that he waited until after losing the election to flash the old-time populism and wedge both parties, but here we are. And then came the moment where Mitch McConnell’s head blew up like in Scanners.


As soon as Trump posted that video, I suggested that the House pass a one-page bill, increasing the checks from $600 to $2,000. Much to my delight in seeing that political instincts in the Democratic Party aren’t totally dead, about 10 minutes later, Nancy Pelosi suggested the same thing, saying she would offer unanimous consent to amend the bill. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) even wrote the amendment. (I gave it a name: the $2,000 Does Offer Long-Lasting Available Relief or $2,000 DOLLAR, Act.) Eventually, Chuck Schumer got on board as well. Joe Biden hasn’t said anything, but he was on the record for seeking more money when he became president. So the Democratic leadership beat him to it, and called Trump’s bluff.

Now, a word on “unanimous consent”: it would be better to just pass a bill in the House, and demand its takeup in the Senate. Unanimous consent needs to be, well, unanimous; one Republican House member can derail it. If you move a bill, every House Republican has to go on the record of whether they stand with Trump for spending $380 billion in a direct transfer to low- and middle-income people. Every one of those that doesn’t gets a campaign ad in 2022 about how “you needed that extra money, and Congressman X voted to not give it to you.” So yes, #ForceTheVote.

This puts McConnell in a terrible spot. There’s an election in Georgia in two weeks that will determine his Senate majority. The only reason McConnell passed this bill is to save Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue’s careers and preserve his control of the Senate. He put an artificial $900 billion cap on it, which Donald Trump and Democrats now are united in regarding as puny. If McConnell resists the change, he’s all alone in denying money to the American people. These checks poll extremely well, and both Democrats in Georgia are already running on the $2,000 level. If McConnell resists, losing the Senate is a much likelier scenario. If he doesn’t, people get $2,000.


There are so many amazing subplots here. Trump can’t stand McConnell for abandoning his overthrow-the-election gambit, so he sticks in the final knife. The threat, by the way, is real: there are only 10 days left in this Congress, and Trump doesn’t have the bill yet (which is being “enrolled,” essentially double-checked for errors). He could “pocket veto” the bill and just not sign it, and in 10 days the clock would run out, and there would be no bill for anyone. The new Congress would have to start all over.

This would be a disastrous scenario—unemployment programs would expire, the eviction moratorium would lift, and more. Already this snafu is delaying the flow of relief. And the only man holding it up is Mitch McConnell. This upends the entire shift of the multi-racial working class away from the Democratic Party, and re-focuses the spotlight brightly on McConnell. Trump handed the Democrats a total gift here, and if they play it right, the payoff for people—literally—will be incredible.
Pass the popcorn.


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