See You in September, Congress

Update 464: See You in Sept., Congress; 
GOP Sees Recovery Just Around Corona 

A patient in a hospital bed hears two doctors outside the room arguing about the best course of treatment. There is no agreement and consequently no treatment. This analogy of the patient’s plight to the predicament of the American people today fails because it suggests a false equilibration. Dr. McConnell, with no good ideas and none that will get to 60, shrugs and advises “pull the plug.”

The discouraging collapse of the Corona relief/stimulus negotiations this week means that another month will pass before Congress can address the nation’s economic stagnation in the face of the steadily growing pandemic. With general election voting starting early, Congress is unlikely to agree on anything meaningful. So this could take months. Voters can choose their own doctors in the meantime.

Good weekends and vacations, all…

Dana

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After weeks of fruitless negotiations, President Trump issued a series of executive actions last Saturday that do little to provide relief or stimulus. With Congress now in August Recess, we are unlikely to see an agreement on a package before mid-September. 

Despite spending months decrying both the CARES and HEROES Acts, Republicans still have no clear vision for the next coronavirus bill. Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer have indicated their willingness to negotiate, but the fractured Republican caucus and their constantly-shifting positions are making negotiations nearly impossible. 

Below, we recap the last week of (non)negotiations, discuss the Republican (non)plan, and outline the path forward for Democrats.

Negotiations in Stalemate

When Senate Majority Leader McConnell unveiled the HEALS Act last month, Democrats, President Trump, and members of the Republican caucus dismissed it out of hand. The results of GOP dithering have been and will continue to be painful for millions of Americans. Per the Economic Policy Institute, just under 15 million people were receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance before the start of August. Those people have just lost a major source of income at the same time that eviction moratoriums are expiring. Meanwhile, the pandemic continues unabated.

Republicans and Democrats alike were quick to denounce President Trump’s recent executive actions as hollow and unconstitutional. In the week since the signing ceremony, no progress towards a deal has been made. Last weekend, Pelosi and Schumer offered to shave $1 trillion from their initial offer in return for the administration raising their price tag by an equal $1 trillion. Secretary Mnuchin refused to engage, and negotiations collapsed.

On Wednesday, Mnuchin reached out to Pelosi and Schumer to try and arrange a meeting. The Democratic leaders refused, insisting that there would be no further negotiations until the White House matches the Democrats’ compromise and “start[s] to take this process seriously.” 

As of now, Congress is unlikely to reach a deal before mid-September. The House extended its August recess into the second week of September, and most legislators in both chambers have already left Washington. Even Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who has been working with Mnuchin on the negotiations has left on holiday. Any future negotiations will likely only be between Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell, and Mnuchin. 

The Republican Plan(s)?

After months of foot-dragging, McConnell finally agreed to the need for another package, but he has refused to offer any real plan. Frustrated by his own party’s leadership, Trump dismissed the Republican HEALS Act as “semi-irrelevant.” As we discussed Wednesday, Trump has taken it into his own hands to offer some (at best) meager and (at worst) damaging actions. 

Similarly, the Republican coronavirus platform is a patchwork of policies ranging from lukewarm to abysmal. The optics are poor, as Republicans appear to be more concerned with protecting corporate profits than everyday Americans. Some of the Republicans’ top priorities appear to be:

  • Damaging Workers: McConnell’s pet project, corporate liability immunity, would bar workers and consumers from legal recourse should they contract coronavirus due to corporate negligence or recklessness. Under McConnell’s plan, there would be no repercussions for corporations, schools, or hospitals that force staff to work without proper PPE and fail to reasonably protect consumers, students, and patients. 
  • Lowering Taxes for the Rich: Trump recently proposed permanently lowering capital gains taxes either by lowering the rate or by indexing capital gains to inflation. While Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow stated yesterday that Trump did not intend to lower the rates through executive order, Kudlow has not commented on the prospect of the president unilaterally pursuing the inflation adjustment.
  • Eradicating Social Security: Since the beginning of the pandemic, Trump has advocated for a payroll tax cut, a measure he attempted to achieve through his recent executive action. Republicans have pushed for cuts to Social Security and Medicare and privatization of the programs for years. Should Trump succeed in making the payroll tax deferral permanent, the loss of revenue would threaten Medicare and further imperil Social Security. 
  • Punishing Schools: In a rare area of agreement, the White House and Congressional Republicans have both demanded that schools reopen in the fall or else lose their federal funding. Such a plan would effectively force schools to open without resources for PPE or sanitation equipment, endangering the lives of their staff, students, and teachers. This would particularly harm schools in poorer communities, which have less funding from local sources.
  • Eviscerating State Public Services: Although protested by state Republican leaders like Maryland Gov. Hogan, congressional Republicans have refused the prospect of additional aid to state and local governments. States have already begun to cut jobs and services, particularly in education, due to balanced budget requirements. 
  • Preventing Democracy: Afraid of an enfranchised electorate, Republicans have stymied Democratic efforts to include additional funding for universal mail-in voting and protecting in-person voting in November. In an unusually honest moment, Trump stated that he and Republicans opposed such funding because universal mail-in voting would mean that no Republican would ever be elected again. The implication is obvious: Republicans only succeed electorally because of systematic disenfranchisement. 

For many of these policies, the opposition is coming from inside the party. Trump signaled his disinterest in liability immunity, while many Republicans harshly decried Trump’s executive actions and have consistently resisted his various tax cut proposals. And despite McConnell providing an opening for Republican agreement on a fifth package, almost half of Republican Senators oppose any new relief. 

A Silver Lining for Democrats

Without clear direction, Americans may cast blame on both Republicans and Democrats for the coronavirus stalemate. Democrats’ lack of a central message is largely attributable to the Republican lack of any plan whatsoever; it is difficult to negotiate against a moving target.

What does unify Republicans is their steadfast inability to understand the causes of the economic recession and the dire straits facing American workers and families. Their rationale is confounding; either Republicans are ignorant of what must be done or so beholden to Trump or ideology that it doesn’t matter to them. 

Either way, Democrats will no doubt use these sad facts to illustrate the incompetence of the Republican Party to provide a working government with the nation gripped by multiple crises. With the next package almost sure to be the last coronavirus bill before the election, it remains incumbent on Congress (not redundant) to look at macroeconomic conditions and provide the relief Americans and the economy need. 

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