Author’s note December 28, 2020: President Trump signed the COVID relief bill shortly after this post was published. An update appears at the end of the original post.
So where exactly is that 1,593 page spending bill that Democrats and Republicans colluded on to sell to the nation with the misnomer “COVID relief?” I can only hope that the president spent some time over the holidays sitting on the beach making paper airplanes from each and every page.
I could make an even better suggestion, but out of politeness I’ll let it go.
While Americans pondered how thin they could slice their Christmas turkey to make it last as long as possible, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pondered weighty issues like the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. Relief was already on the way for those in need so it was time for other priorities:
Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserve to be protected1
We get it. Kentucky loves its horses, but considering what we’ve gone through perhaps this should have been a bill to bolster the state’s cherished bourbon industry.
Even better, Republicans in Congress could have done the right thing and agreed to real COVID relief. The president gave them a chance. In retrospect, Trump got even.
McConnell celebrates the victory that could have been
McConnell joined Democrats in playing a rhetorical trick on the American people who might understandably mistake passing COVID relief with printing checks. This isn’t the case of course, but it didn’t stop McConnell from taking credit where no credit is due:
We passed a bold plan called the CARES Act to assist families, workers, small businesses and medical professionals. We’ll win this fight against the Coronavirus because Americans continue finding creative ways to stand united—even if we have to stand six feet apart.2
Americans who lost their jobs have to be especially creative because their unemployment benefits ran out overnight while their helping hand payments from Congress go nowhere.
On Capitol Hill the Republican backslapping betrayed the truth:
For the information of all Senators, and for the information of the American people, we can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a long time:
More help is on the way.3
Except it isn’t. There is no help coming. None. Zip. Zero.
GOP lawmakers are lucky they are not one of us
McConnell spoke of a major rescue package for the American people.” He echoed the same kind of “we’re all in this together” nonsense we hear from Democrats who, like Republicans, probably thanked God at their holiday tables that they are not one of us.
Nevertheless, the celebration went on and on. McConnell wrapped his arms around the House and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin so they could share the credit for this “historic bipartisan agreement:”4
Yesterday, leaders in the Senate, in the House, and the Secretary of the Treasury reached the major agreement that struggling Americans have needed for months.5
Then he tossed out the fib we’ve been hearing from Capitol Hill throughout this terrible year:
I am glad for our country that we are now moving ahead together.6
Except there is no togetherness to be found. Americans who aren’t working are still paying congressional salaries. To add insult we watched lawmakers get their COVID vaccines before the people who will pay the bill with our tax dollars.
Lucky for McConnell he may never have to go on record for or against COVID relief generosity. House Republicans stomped that opportunuty before it had any chance of making its way to the Senate.
We could call this a monumental political blunder, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll just call it selfish and stupid.
Struggling Americans make Republicans look really bad
Out of the blue President Trump asked for more money on behalf of McConnell’s “struggling Americans.” This was a brilliant move. Trump gave Republicans a chance to look good in the eyes of the people. With control of the Senate in jeopardy an opportunity dropped into the GOP’s lap to prove once and for all that Republicans care about more than helping Democrats push through another self-interested pork barrel bill with the excuse that people need help.
Republicans said no.
The consequences were swift and very predictable:
Today, House Democrats proposed a good-faith effort to quickly pass $2,000 checks, but the House GOP callously blocked it. Passing this proposal through unanimous consent would have meant the American people received survival checks as soon as possible.7
Trump got even. The GOP deserves it.
Were Republicans ever really on Trump’s side? With a few notable exceptions like Lindsey Graham they never had his back. They had their own backs and tolerated their president when they perceived some benefit for themselves.
We never heard the kind of unquestionable support from the GOP that Democrats dish out no matter how outrageous their members behave. We should expect a few congressional turncoats, but Trump needed a loud, concerted voice behind him. With the exception of tax reform what he got was lukewarm assent.
Trump finally got even. Republicans clearly underestimated the president, but why? Did they fall for their opponents’ tale of an incompetent half-wit in the White House? Was it fear for their political careers? Do they simply not care what happens to the American people as long as they can keep their jobs and collude with Democrats per Capitol Hill protocol?
I’m opting for the last one. The GOP just proved it. Trump gave them an out. He gave them a chance to look good and even bolster their chances in Georgia by doing the right thing in the midst of an appalling amount of non-COVID spending. Instead, Republicans said no to bumping up relief checks to a figure that might actually do some good.
Democrats said yes. That was also predictable.
In the end Trump got even. Republicans look really, really bad. McConnell’s horseracing bill will be a metaphor for the horse’s asses in the GOP for years to come.
UPDATE December 28, 2020: Trump offers Republicans another chance to look really, really bad
Trump’s back was against a wall. A government shutdown loomed. His point was made. He signed the bill.
The president made both parties show their backsides. Democrats quickly took the bait. Republicans did not, or at least they haven’t yet. Instead, with signed bill in hand the GOP leadership publicly applauded Trump’s decision. Mitch McConnell called the package “another major lifeline to workers at struggling small businesses.”8 Across the hall Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) thanked the president for “putting people over politics.”9
The very last thing this bill does is put people over politics. The bad news for Republicans is that the politics is far from over. Nancy Pelosi drew the partisan line in the sand:
Now, the President must immediately call on Congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000, which will be brought to the Floor tomorrow. Every Republican vote against this bill is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need.10
Pelosi is wrong about the president joining Democrats. Her party is just as guilty as Republicans of manipulating the people’s misfortune to justify foreign interest spending. Lawmakers banged the drum of $600 solicitude for Americans until Trump focused the nation’s attention on their hypocrisy.
Are $2,000 checks too much money for Republicans to bear? The time that elapsed between the last batch of COVID relief and this new spending monstrosity gave Congress time to figure out how to dole out the new checks with an eye to need instead of making payments to people who are still working and don’t need them. They could have asked people to apply or tied relief to the unemployment insurance system.
Lawmakers didn’t do that. Instead, they forced a battle between foreign interests and the American people.
Trump rightly called Congress’s bluff. He made his point. If someone in Washington has the people’s back it’s not Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer, McCarthy, or Hoyer. They proved that with this bill and it’s appallingly low assistance payments that they excuse as a necessary consequence of how Congress does its job on our behalf.
The sad thing about this is that the president received the motherlode of blame while those who manipulated this bill through Congress took credit for their incredible altruism.
Now Republicans have a new opportunity to look really, really bad again. They could do the right thing, keeping in mind that their decision could very well impact the January 5, 2021 runoff in Georgia. Regardless of which option they choose, Democrats will either take credit for bullying them into raising the payments or will blame them for refusing to agree with Trump and the Democratic Party.
Either way, Trump got even and Republicans will pay the price for living up to their reputation.
UPDATE December 29, 2020: it’s time for conservative Republicans to bend so they don’t break
Yesterday 130 House Republicans said no to boosting relief checks to $2,000. The nays included six representatives from Georgia, the state that will determine who rules the Senate. In the end the House didn’t need their yeas but it sent a strong message to their state’s voters about who has their back.
Rep. Drew Ferguson applauded the defense funding in the bill, the 3% pay raise for troops, and “targeted COVID relief.”11
Ferguson’s targeted relief includes help for rural hospitals, broadband, and the Paycheck Protection Program. For those who already lost their jobs or businesses this spending will not pay the mortgage. Neither will $600.
The absence of real targeted relief will ultimately kill the $2,000 payments in the Senate. Lawmakers are lazy. They never considered a responsible way to pass out this assistance they wrongly branded as stimulus.
They assumed everyone is desperate for their paternalism despite a national unemployment rate that has dropped to 6.7%. The right thing to do was bump up the checks but only provide help to those in need whether that means applying for relief or taking it back from those who kept their jobs with next year’s tax return.
Americans trying to keep their homes are going to have a tough time appreciating the benefits of the new Defense appropriations bill or the urgency of this spending package’s Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act. Trump realizes this. He gave Republicans a way out from looking really bad.
There are times when ideals need to bend so they don’t break. The rise of socialism during this pandemic sent a strong message to conservative Republicans that they need to adapt. Despite the economic calamities created by this pandemic they still aren’t listening. Perhaps when Georgia goes belly up for a selfish, short-sighted GOP they’ll take the hint.
UPDATE January 10, 2021: last week’s coup was in Georgia, not Washington
There was a coup attempt last week but it’s not the one everyone is talking about. It took place in Georgia. It was successful. Now Democrats own the U.S. government.
McConnell had a chance to prevent this. There is nothing to say that agreeing to send out $2,000 checks would have guaranteed a Senate victory for the GOP, but it would not have done any damage, either. Now McConnell is saddled with the prospect of another Trump impeachment trial. It doesn’t really matter how this one comes out. The Trump presidency is over. Republicans who did not back him should take notes after Biden is sworn in. Democrats know how to support their president. If Republicans ever get a chance again maybe they can learn something from the painful four years that are about to descend on our nation.
1“McConnell Leads Senate Passage of Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.” McConnell.senate.gov. December 21 – December 22, 2020. https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=D2885679-F155-496A-A9D9-F181205FB0C8, retrieved December 27, 2020.
2“Senator McConnell Delivers the CARES Act: A Bold Response to the Coronavirus.” McConnell.senate.gov. https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public//index.cfm?p=coronavirus-updates, retrieved December 27, 2020.
3“McConnell Announces COVID-19 Relief Agreement: “More Help Is On The Way.” McConnell.senate.gov. December 20, 2020. https://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/pressreleases?ID=3AAF1CBA-D0CF-46A3-B170-64E3321434C0, retrieved December 27, 2020.
4“McConnell Celebrates Historic Bipartisan Agreement on Pandemic Relief and Government Funding.” RepublicanLeader.senate.gov. December 21, 2020. https://www.republicanleader.senate.gov/newsroom/remarks/mcconnell-celebrates-historic-bipartisan-agreement-on-pandemic-relief-and-government-funding, retrieved December 27, 2020.
7“Pingree Statement on Future of COVID Relief Bill, Stimulus Checks.” Pingree.house.gov. December 24, 2020. https://pingree.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=3578, retrieved December 27, 2020.
8“McConnell Applauds President Trump for Signing Crucial Relief Legislation into Law.” RepublicanLeader.senate.gov. December 27, 2020. https://www.republicanleader.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/mcconnell-applauds-president-trump-for-signing-crucial-relief-legislation-into-law, retrieved December 28, 2020.
9Kevin McCarthy’s published a Facebook post that thanked the president for “putting people over politics.” McCarthy, Kevin. @RepKevinMcCarthy. [Facebook update] December 27, 2020. https://www.facebook.com/RepKevinMcCarthy/posts/10157952092923176?__tn__=-R, retrieved December 28, 2020.
10“Pelosi Statement on Trump Signing Bipartisan Coronavirus Relief and Omnibus Funding Bill.” Speaker.gov. December 27, 2020. https://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/122720, retrieved December 28, 2020.
11“Ferguson Votes for Targeted COVID Relief.” Ferguson.house.gov. December 22, 2020. https://ferguson.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=3158, retrieved December 29, 2020.
*NPS photo. “Pipe Spring National Monument Arizona. Horses.” https://www.nps.gov/pisp/learn/photosmultimedia/horses.htm, retrieved December 27, 2020.