Following the breakdown in negotiations over a second pandemic relief bill between the Senate, the House and the White House, many media reported the story as if it was a serious negotiation.
The House passed its $3 trillion HEROES Act in May showing that the majority understood the extent of pain being incurred by the public during the pandemic. That bill extended an additional $600 unemployment benefit for those unable to work. It extended the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for a year. It guaranteed $13 per hour hazard pay for essential workers. It provided $900 billion to states to compensate for lost revenue and increased expenses during the pandemic. And it repealed the $135 billion giveaway to millionaires that was part of the first relief bill.
Unfortunately, the majority leader in GOP-controlled Senate refused to allow the bill to come up for a vote. Instead, Moscow Mitch delayed any discussion of a relief bill until the previous until the benefits of the original CARES Act were about to expire.
Then, operating under a self-imposed deadline, the Senate managed to cobble together a $1 trillion bill that reduced the expanded unemployment benefit to $200 per month and offered no eviction moratorium for renters. It did, however, include items unrelated to the pandemic, such as tax deductions for 3-martini lunches, funds for F-35 fighter jets, and an astonishing $33 million (that’s right, $33 million) for remodeling the West Wing of the White House.
When the Senate stated that its bill was non-negotiable, the House attempted to negotiate with the White House, offering to meet Republicans in the middle with a $2 trillion relief bill. When the White House refused to accept a compromise, the talks broke down and the GOP senators left town!
Rather than a failure of negotiations, I believe the outcome was pre-determined – a political trick. The Senate and the White House never intended to negotiate in good faith. By refusing to compromise, they saw an opportunity to boost the president’s re-election chances by setting him up to “save the day” with yet another unconstitutional executive order that would raise his approval ratings with voters whose support was wavering over his failure to address the pandemic: “See! The Democrats let you down by refusing to accept our offer. But I will help you.”
It’s not unlike the Treasury Department holding up the first round of stimulus checks in order to print Trump’s name on them.
Here’s the thing: Trump’s order and accompanying memos are not only unconstitutional – the responsibility for federal spending lies with Congress – the order relies on states to pay half the cost of the additional unemployment benefit and most states are so struggling financially that they are already considering the probability of lay-offs and cut-backs to essential services. Like the federal government, state governments are receiving less revenue from taxes. But, unlike the federal government, they can’t print more money.
So where do we go from here?
If the White House and Senate refuse to negotiate a new relief bill, House Democrats will be faced, once again, with filing lawsuits to protect the constitutional power of Congress and preventing the Executive branch from further consolidating power. Of course, that will give the false impression that they don’t care about the plight of ordinary working Americans. And, if they fail to negotiate a bill that will provide necessary aid to the unemployed, there is a very real possibility that the nation will fall into an economic depression. More than 50 million Americans have already filed for unemployment benefits during the pandemic. And we have already experienced the greatest drop in GDP in our nation’s history.
If so, the fault will not lie with Democrats. It will have been caused by a Republican president who called the pandemic a hoax, who botched the response by abdicating all responsibility to governors, who has tried to create a race war to distract from his failures, and who continues to claim that that the pandemic will just miraculously disappear.