One of my favorite lines from “Finding Nemo” is “With friends like these, who needs anemones?” In the movie, the phrase is a punch line to a rather punny joke. Republicans are probably feeling a similar sentiment these days without the joviality.
In the space of a few days, Congress made a deal on the pandemic relief bill, passed it, Trump threatened to veto it and called it a “disgrace,” then passed it with a signing statement that called on Congress to increase the payments to Americans and investigate election fraud. Democrats were happy to oblige with the first request since they had wanted larger payments in the first place and have already passed a bill bumping the checks up to $2,000. Things are moving somewhat slower on the request to investigate election fraud (insert eye-roll here).
But Senate Republicans are now caught between a rock and hard place. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which is which, but at this point, the only group that doesn’t want Americans to get $2,000 checks is the Senate GOP. Possibly not coincidentally, the Senate GOP is the only group that is up for re-election.
The newly rediscovered budget hawkishness of the Senate GOP is a possible sign that its members realize that Trump’s days are numbered. “Two Scaramuccis” as of today as the former White House staffer tweeted this morning. If you prefer more traditional measurements of time, there are 22 days left in Trump’s term.
While Donald Trump was not a lame duck, Senate Republicans never saw a spending bill they didn’t like. Even before the pandemic, spending increased by $800 billion under Trump and the reawakening Republican deficit hawks. It seems that Republicans don’t mind spending, they just mind Democratic spending.
When Senate Republicans take up the new bill, what will happen is anyone’s guess. Senators Bernie Sanders (DINO-Vermont) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have vowed to filibuster a vote to override Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act to force action on the House bill.
“Nothing in this bill helps anybody get back to work,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, told the AP.
Well, yeah. That’s the whole point. As I’ve pointed out since March, the economic crisis won’t be over until the pandemic is over. Even with vaccine distribution beginning, we have a long way to go to defeat the virus. The Thanksgiving surge left the US outbreak out of control and there are early signs that Christmas get-togethers will fuel another wave of infections and deaths.
One sign of the coming wave of sickness and death is that airline travel set pandemic records over the Christmas holidays and even surpassed Thanksgiving numbers. Many travelers were unknowingly exposed to the virus as they traveled, if not on airplanes then on buses and trains to terminals, in the terminals themselves, in restaurants, and at the family gatherings themselves. I described last week how two sick family members exposed my family at a Christmas party.
Getting back to Rep. Brady, the point is that Americans should not go back to work if they are sick or have been exposed to the virus. That’s how we stop transmission. The focus should be on making sure that people only return to work when it is safe to do so and that they have the financial means to stay quarantined if going to work is not safe.
To that point, I agree that $600 is not enough. On the other hand, $2,000 might not be enough either.
What the government really should be doing is paying the salaries of people who have to miss work due to COVID exposure. And not all Americans work. There needs to be compensation for those who need to quarantine but are retired, disabled, or in school.
Aside from the consequences of another hundred thousand or so dead Americans, another question regarding the relief bill is how it will affect the two Georgia Senate races. Senators Loeffler and Perdue are damned if they do and damned if they don’t on the issue.
Both Loeffler and Perdue tweeted in support of the $2,000 payments this morning. It isn’t clear if they fear deviating from Trump’s wishes more than offending fiscal hawks or if they just can tell which way the political winds are blowing on the relief payments. Either way, the result is the same, leaving all four candidates in bipartisan agreement on bigger checks.
I’ve long scoffed at claims that Donald Trump was playing 345-dimensional chess while everyone else was playing Chinese checkers, but it’s at least possible that the president’s maneuvering here is meant to be a “screw you” move against Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party, which Trump sees as having failed him. McConnell congratulated Joe Biden on his victory two weeks ago in what Trump undoubtedly sees as a betrayal. Costing McConnell his majority could be suitable revenge that would have the added benefit of cementing Trump’s control over the GOP.
Of course, Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party is not in dispute. A Rasmussen poll from yesterday found that 72 percent of likely Republican voters “think their party should be more like Trump than like the average GOP member of Congress.” Apparently, Republicans have not gotten tired of losing, although admittedly, most are still in denial about their loss.
All of this makes the relief payment situation very unpredictable, just like everything else about 2020, but if I were betting, I’d put my money passage of the $2,000 payments. In the Bizarro World of 2020, it is somewhat fitting that Donald Trump, the longtime Democrat, has returned to an uneasy alliance with his old party.
I can almost imagine the soon-to-be-former president and the Speaker of the House crooning the classic Peaches and Herb hit from the 70s, “Reunited and it feels so good.”