Despite having completed three phases of economic relief, the US government is eager to pass another stimulus package. However, Republicans in the Senate are at odds with President Donald Trump and Democrats who desire over $2 trillion in bailout money. On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin declared that a fourth phase of emergency spending will likely not come before the Nov. 3 elections.
Trump No Longer Controls the Party on Coronavirus Relief
Since the last relief measure was approved in August, both parties seemed to agree that more would be needed for everything from COVID-19 testing to bolstering infrastructure, state and local governments, and the wellbeing of American families. For the most part, the struggle to get Washington to loosen its purse strings has been between Democrats and Republicans, with Trump usually going along with his party if not leading it.
During this round of stimulus talks, however, the president has proven to be a wild card with his views all over the board and constantly changing, sometimes from one day to the next. Shortly after he returned to the White House after being hospitalized with coronavirus, Trump announced he had called off talks until after the election, causing American stock markets to nosedive. At the same time, he tweeted that he would be willing to immediately sign a bill providing $1,200 to Americans if Congress would have delivered it to his desk.
In the week that has followed, Trump has returned to the campaign trail, leaving the administration’s stimulus efforts under the direction of Mnuchin who has been unable to make any meaningful progress with House Democrats who are pushing a $2.2 trillion spending bill, as the New York Times reported.
Relief Won’t Come Soon
“At this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that will be difficult,” Mnuchin said.
Republican leaders in the Senate are preparing to vote on a substantially smaller package with $500 billion worth of aid, CNBC reported.
“My members think what we laid out – a half a trillion dollars, highly targeted – is the best way to go. So that’s what I’m going to put on the floor,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R–Ky.
And while Mnuchin is busy fighting Democrats to get them to lower their asking price, Trump is doing the opposite, encouraging Republicans to spend more.
“STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!,” Trump tweeted on Oct. 13. Trump’s proposal with a price tag of $1.8 trillion is higher than the Senate plan and he said he “would go higher. Go big or go home, I said it yesterday.”
Trump was also critical of Mnuchin’s efforts saying, “So far he hasn’t come home with the bacon.”
“The president has said to me, keep at this until you get this done,” Mnuchin said, adding that a deal could be reached quickly if Pelosi compromises. “If we don’t get it now, when the president wins the election we’ll get it passed quickly afterwards.”
McConnell is the Real Problem
While Trump and Mnuchin may be operating under the premise that Democrats are holding up the next round of emergency relief, it is really McConnell and Senate Republicans who are to blame. McConnell is up for reelection next month and could be attempting to position himself as more fiscally conservative in order to shore up traditional Republican voters.
Denying requests for more spending from both Trump and House Democrats gives Republicans, particularly those up for reelection like McConnell, a talking point for their party. They can claim during this year’s campaign and in subsequent elections that they reined in overspending and fought to return Washington to an era of fiscal conservatism.
While that message would resonate with some small-government conservatives, the lack of more coronavirus relief will hurt the GOP at the polls in November. America is already considered to have one of the worst coronavirus responses, especially among developed nations. For voters, COVID-19 will be a dominant, if not the top, issue.
That includes economic relief funding. While Democratic and left-leaning voters might agree that the Trump administration mishandled the crisis, failing to adequately shield Americans from the economic effects is another mistake entirely. While some states, such as Canada, provided a monthly stipend to negate the effect of the pandemic, Washington has so far provided only a meager, one-time payment.
A November Reckoning
With extended unemployment benefits now finished, undecided voters and even many cash-strapped conservatives will judge the president at the voting booth.
McConnell’s refusal to lead Senate Republicans in a larger relief package as Trump himself has asked for will come back to haunt the party in a few weeks.
Current polling indicates Democratic candidate Joe Biden will win the presidency and his party will retake the Senate. In that case, the first order of business will undoubtedly be to pass a comprehensive stimulus package, if the current legislature is incapable of doing so.
Unlike Trump who has flip-flopped on his stimulus views, the Biden campaign has as a coherent plan of action for pushing more emergency relief through Washington. It includes forgiving student loans, increasing social security payouts, giving families additional stimulus checks, and providing free COVID-19 testing and vaccines when they are available.
Crucially, Biden’s plan makes it clear that his administration would keep developing solutions as long as the pandemic persists. This kind of messaging contrasts heavily with Trump and the GOP’s. Voters, many of who continue to be unemployed, will have a choice of polar opposites on Election Day. Republicans have limited time to get on-board before they face a potential reckoning at the polls.