[The remainder of the “Pushing the Big Truth” post published on January 29 has not been forgotten, merely deferred ;)]
Yesterday, ten more or less moderate Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins, and U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski journeyed to the White House to present an alternate $600B COVID relief package to the $1.9T COVID relief package offered by the Biden Administration. Tellingly, neither Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor any of his Senate Republican Leadership Team were among the ten. Equally illuminating is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly declared that Senate Democratic Leadership is sticking to the Administration package, and, undoubtedly still smarting from being manhandled by Mr. McConnell and his Senate cohort for the last decade, has criticized the attempt to bypass Senate Democrats in COVID negotiations.
The fact that the Republican Senate group numbers ten is vital; if ten Senate Republicans and all 50 Senate Democrats agree to support a given COVID relief bill, it would be filibuster-proof in the Senate.
The Democratic package seems an opening negotiating “kitchen sink” salvo, even including a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 (which, no matter how one feels about the measure on its own merits, presumably not even the most ardent progressive can claim is directly related to COVID relief). The Republican proposal is, presumably, an opening “low ball” response, and I understand continues Republicans’ reflexive resistance to assistance to state and local governments (which I find silly, and partisan).
There is no dispute that Congress’ earlier COVID relief bills employed a shotgun approach necessitated by the immediacy of the crisis, and left some Americans without the relief that one would have wanted them to receive — which Democrats now seek to remedy through their package — while providing other Americans inappropriate windfalls — which Republicans now seek to avoid through their response.
One can, of course, find an economist on virtually every side of every issue. Some very reputable economists, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, feel that it is critical for the federal government to provide massive amounts of aid to the economy at this point in order to stave off recession and unnecessary hardship. Other reputable economists, while acknowledging the necessity of addressing areas of genuine American need, caution that too much indiscriminate aid will overheat the economy, ignite inflation, make our already-huge deficit hole even deeper than it needs to be, thereby endangering our future ability fund other critical programs (see Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid).
The Republican initiative creates a pivotal dilemma for Mr. Biden. Much of the actual COVID relief components of his bill can apparently be passed with simple Congressional majorities via a legislative mechanism called, “budget reconciliation.” As it stands, the GOP overture is too stingy; but if the Republicans are willing to meaningfully increase their offer, if advising Mr. Biden I would suggest that as he weighs the relative political and substantive merits of a compromise with Republicans against budget reconciliation, he should consider: What exactly does he think his mandate is? Why did the American people choose to hire him rather than retain Donald Trump?
Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him — due to his pledge to more effectively combat the Coronavirus than Mr. Trump did? Or to get the minimum wage raised to $15?
Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they want him to seemingly indiscriminately spread money across the economy (virtually everyone has heard of someone who got more from the first COVID packages than they were making before the pandemic)? Or because they hope that Mr. Biden can restore a sense of decency and decorum to the presidency?
Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they relish the notion that now Democrats can unilaterally impose their policy ideas on America in the same manner as Republicans did while they controlled Congress? Or because they hope that Mr. Biden could restore a spirit of compromise to our legislative process?
Mr. Biden has thus far issued a slew of Executive Orders that could have come as no surprise to either Mr. Biden’s friends or foes. For the most part, these Orders were foreseeable and haven’t impaired his overall standing with the American people (he has issued a couple of more controversial Executive Orders that I would have deferred, but that’s for another day’s note). But he pledged during the campaign and in his inaugural address to be the President for all the people. He clung to the notion throughout the Democratic presidential nomination contest — a notion that seemed an albatross in the early days of the campaign when contrasted with the more stridently partisan positions of his adversaries — that Republicans could be worked with, and that he had a record of successfully working with them. (In this one particular, query whether Mr. Biden’s campaign claim was substantively different from Mr. Trump’s 2016 declaration that he “knew how to make deals.”)
Mr. Biden’s obviously genuine belief that progress can be made through amicable compromise – along with an expectation that he would more competently address the COVID crisis — was, I submit, the most important reason he defeated Mr. Trump. If he turns his back on compromise now, I fear that the parties will immediately return to gridlock. Granted, he needs to get a bill that addresses the most glaring areas of need, but I believe that Sens. Romney, Collins, and Murkowski are reasonable people [I don’t know enough about all ten ;)]. If Mr. Biden can get a bipartisan package less than his current proposal that nonetheless addresses the nation’s critical COVID needs, I think he should eschew budget reconciliation and do the deal, as long as he also gets – and can publicly recite – a pledge from his “Republican friends” that they will collaborate upon further relief in the future if, as Democrats believe, such proves necessary. He has the means to avoid Republican stalling through the “hammer” of budget reconciliation, a process already begun; the GOP group is undoubtedly aware that their window to achieve a compromise is short before the substantive and political pressure on Mr. Biden to proceed unilaterally will become too great.
To Mr. Schumer, perhaps to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, perhaps to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, perhaps to U.S. NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if any are disgruntled with the compromise, Mr. Biden should say: I got elected. This is why. Trump would have beaten any one of you. My mandate was to treat the nation’s divisiveness as well as its Coronavirus. Are you going to help me, or not?