Senate Republicans AWOL In Stimulus Negotiations, Trump Might Try Magic Instead
Remember, House Dems passed a stimmy package in MAY.
Negotiations on a new stimulus bill between Democratic congressional leadership and the White House made little progress Thursday night. That means nobody knows when an actual deal might be reached to renew expired emergency unemployment benefits and other aid to offset the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The investor class and financial sector are doing comparatively well after Republicans aimed the first rounds of stimulus their way, so it may be a while for the rest of America. But don't worry, Donald Trump thinks he can wave a magic executive order and make everything better.
The three hour meeting last night was held between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Trump's negotiators from the White House, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Notice anyone missing there, like any Republican senators at all? The Washington Post reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
is not taking an active part in the talks and has said he'll support any deal the administration officials and Democrats are able to reach. He left the Capitol long before Thursday night's meeting broke up.
Not that he left the meeting; he just plain wasn't in it at all. Other Senate Republicans, who seem to have suddenly realized they might lose their seats this fall, have made small squeaky noises about the need for a new stimmy bill, but so far McConnell doesn't seem to have listened to them at all. Why would a massive shelled reptile take notice of small mammals.?
But McConnell was at least deeply offended that Pelosi told CNBC host Jim Cramer earlier that Republicans prefer eliminating government, not doing government stuff when Americans are in need. ( Factcheck: true. )
While he wouldn't bother getting involved in the negotiations, McConnell did appear separately on CNBC to repeat his party's line that there's no sense extending $600 per week emergency unemployment benefits because they supposedly prevent people from going back to jobs that have disappeared.
I think we should not continue the process of paying some people more not to work than to work. I do think we need to adjust whatever unemployment compensation bonus there is to reflect that it's not fair for your neighbor to stay home and make more and you go back to work and make less.
After Thursday's talks went nowhere, Pelosi said the problem was quite simple: Republicans "didn't take the virus seriously in the beginning, they're not taking the consequences of the virus seriously at this time. [...] And that's why it's hard to come to terms."
With no deal, 30 million Americans will be starting their second straight week without the emergency supplement to unemployment insurance. Since that provision of the earlier CARES Act provided help to gig workers, part-time workers, and the self-employed, who aren't eligible for most state unemployment insurance, that means a hell of a lot of people have no help at all. Guess they'll all just rush out and get jobs now. Democrats want the $600 per week unemployment payments to continue, but Republicans want to slash that to $200 a week.
This is where we remind you yet again that way back in May, Democrats in the House passed a $3 trillion stimulus package , the HEROES Act, that extended emergency unemployment through January 2021, extended the federal moratorium on (some) evictions, and provided rent assistance to keep people from ending up on the street, among other things. The White House and Senate Republicans, by contrast, kept insisting the economy would come roaring back, which it didn't, although the pandemic sure did. Republicans only started negotiating among themselves last week, which is why they're now blaming Democrats for holding things up.
Mnuchin said last night that one of the key sticking points was that Democrats wanted too much money in aid for the states, which have been hammered by loss of tax revenue in the recession. The HEROES Act included nearly a trillion dollars in aid for state, local, and tribal governments, but Republicans won't agree to that because they fear it might help pay pensions for public employees, and unions are evil and bad. Mnuchin said,
The president is not going to do a deal that has a massive amount of money to bail out state and local. [...] The president is prepared to do something for state and local that deals with the issue of additional coronavirus expenses, that deals with the first responders, the hospitals, the police and fireman all have proper funding, and the school teachers.
Just as long as not a penny goes to help states meet their pension obligations to those very people, you see? Look on the bright side: McConnell isn't pushing for legislation to let states go bankrupt.
But don't worry, President Goodbrain has a backup plan! A couple of 'em, even! Roll Call reports,
If the outlines of a broader deal don't emerge by Friday, Trump has told his two negotiators to try to work out a so-called "skinny deal," which Democrats have repeatedly rejected. Barring that, Trump said Thursday he's prepared to issue an "executive order" likely to involve a payroll tax cut, an extended eviction moratorium, student debt relief and some way of keeping unemployment benefits flowing.
Trump's legal authority to actually do all that is pretty dubious, however. Pelosi said sure, extending the eviction moratorium is an executive branch power, so please do that, although it won't help much without funding to back it up (and remember, the rental assistance would also help landlords, for your win-win). The administration has already extended the eviction moratorium for folks in federally backed housing through the end of August, as well as zero-percent interest rates and forebearance options for student loans.
As for other things Trump wants to do with an "executive order," the Constitution probably doesn't allow that, not that Trump wouldn't try anyway, because he can do anything he wants. Quick 'splainer from Roll Call:
The legal authority for potential moves to cut payroll taxes and renew emergency unemployment benefits is less clear. Tax experts say the White House couldn't unilaterally declare a payroll tax holiday , let alone backfill the lost Social Security trust fund revenue without an act of Congress.
Trump also wants to see if he can take any unspent funds from the CARES Act and throw them into a pot to provide an extension on the emergency unemployment benefits, though there again, the law requires appropriated funds to go to the things Congress intended them for. Trump figures that since he's so far been able to shift money around from the Pentagon budget to WALL, he can do the same thing for stimmy, the law be damned.
Where do things go from here? Nobody really knows. The Post reports that Mnuchin said he and Meadows and Chuck and Nancy would "be consulting with the president and talking by phone on Friday to see whether it made sense to meet again in person." McConnell says he's staying in Washington, but he's also letting Republican senators head home for what's not being formally called an August recess if they wanna, subject to being recalled to vote on any stimmy deal with 24 hours' notice.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere shook his magnificent antlers and blamed the impasse on Democrats who he accused of "playing politics," which is an odd way to describe passing a bill nearly three months ago, after which Republicans sat around with their thumbs up their asses. No worries, said Deere, one hoof upraised, Donald Trump is "fully prepared to use his executive authority to help those who continue to be impacted by this virus from China."
Maybe China will pay for a stimulus bill, since Republicans show no inclination to do so. Maybe Republicans will allow a deal by Labor Day, not that there will be a lot of laborers left.
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