We’ve been waiting for a second coronavirus stimulus package for five months. In May, the House Democrats passed a $3.2 billion package that was shockingly pretty good, including extending the $600 per week unemployment checks, another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, and increased funding for the Payroll Protection Program, state, local, territorial and tribal governments, and the Post Office.
Since then, a lot has been said, but nothing else has happened. Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have gone back and forth for months without much input from Mitch McConnell, who has been and remains solely focused on using what might be the final months of his leadership putting every 40-year-old Federalist Society member on the federal bench.
Pelosi gave Mnuchin a 48-hour-deadline on Sunday in order for the two sides to cut a deal by the election, as the White House still hasn’t met her demands for COVID-19 testing (among other things). Today, White House chief of staff and former House Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows indicated that McConnell might finally be willing to bring it to the floor, though he expressed doubt that it would actually pass.
The Tuesday deadline, however, might as well be a deadline on getting another relief package at all. And the fact that it’s taken this long to get to even this point is just an abandonment of working people by the American political leadership.
The $600-per-week unemployment checks ran out at the end of July, and the unemployment rate is still hovering around 8 percent. Tens of thousands of airline workers were recently laid off and United Airlines doesn’t anticipate returning to normal demand until the next presidential campaign is fully underway. The restaurant industry has been decimated, as 15 percent of all restaurants and bars in the United States—more than 100,000—have permanently closed, according to the National Restaurant Association. There’s an eviction crisis already underway and it’s only going to get worse.
So the consequences are clear; the problem is that no one wants a deal bad enough.
The White House wants a deal only insofar as it results in every American getting a check with Donald Trump’s name on it prior to Election Day. It’s unclear how badly Pelosi wants one. After passing another bill the Senate won’t agree to earlier this month, she reportedly told House Democrats last week that she has the leverage to get a better deal, but she appears to be both entirely prepared to walk away from a deal and alarmingly unconcerned with what’ll happen to millions of people between now and January 20—assuming the Democrats have a unified government and she’s even still Speaker at that point.
And by far the biggest obstacle is that the Senate GOP doesn’t want a deal at all. They’ve all but given up on Trump’s re-election and are licking their chops at all of the obstruction and austerity they would force on a Biden administration. Take this, from a Bloomberg report last week (emphasis mine):
A GOP strategist who has been consulting with Senate campaigns said Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.
Paralyzing austerity is back, baby. It’s good again.
This episode is American politics in a nutshell. Trump is solely concerned with this only as much as it helps him politically, other Republicans are completely unbothered by all of this because they don’t give a shit if people starve, and the Democrats are stuck playing nine-dimensional chess against themselves, banking on both Joe Biden’s willingness to do another big stimulus in January and enough House Democrats not being gullible enough to fall for the deficit hawk routine, again.
And all the while, millions of people continue to suffer unnecessarily as a result of our pisspoor government’s inaction.