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The newly-revealed Senate coronavirus bill confirms what we have all spent the last 4 years being taught: That Congressional Republicans have never accepted Donald Trump as president, or the issues he ran on, and if Trump is to win, it will have to be by running against the leadership of his own party.
Democrats and Republicans have been fighting for months over the details of a second coronavirus relief package. The Democratic proposal would cost more than $3 trillion and, predictably, includes a huge amount of spending wholly unrelated to helping Americans through this economic crisis. For good measure, it even includes absurd demands like releasing prisoners en masse in the name of protecting them from coronavirus. Republicans are right not to simply submit to the Democratic plan.
But that is no excuse for embracing parsimony at the worst, and most hypocritical, time. In July, the Republican counterproposal included the single best, and most straightforward, way to help Americans hurt by the coronavirus lockdowns: Direct cash payments of $1200 per adult, and $500 per child.
But in Mitch McConnell’s latest version of the bill, released today, the payments are nowhere to be seen. Instead, the bill is a “streamlined” package, featuring aid to businesses, schools, and the postal service, but none for individual Americans.
Right now, America is in the grips of what will almost certainly be its worst economic calamity since the Great Depression 90 years ago. The national unemployment rate has improved, but is still at 8.4%. Direct payments are the most direct, and least politicized, way to assist the country in this exceptional period. They don’t hand money to inefficient state governments or a bloated bureaucracy, don’t set up a system for scammers to exploit, don’t incentivize remaining unemployed (like the enhanced unemployment benefit), and they don’t use coronavirus as an excuse for unrelated, politically motivated policy goals. They simply give money to Americans during a time when many are out of work, low on savings, or fearful their businesses will be destroyed by riots.
GOP senators claim to be worried about wasteful spending. This is a crock. In 2017, the Senate approved a tax cut worth more than $200 billion a year, with a huge share of the benefits accruing to high earners and America’s largest corporations.
For 18 years, Senate Republicans eagerly shoveled trillions of dollars into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In early 2019, Senate Republicans were overwhelmingly against President Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Syria.
Sudden concern about costs only seems to arise when Republicans are at risk of enacting an obviously good policy, like securing the border or helping Americans through an economic disaster. The truth is, Senate Republicans will waste any amount of money, so long as it doesn’t benefit ordinary Americans, just like they will support any war, as long as it is not in America’s interests.
So, what is the real motivation for Republicans to abandon a popular idea, one the president has already endorsed, in the middle of an economic crisis and just two months before a national election? One compelling explanation offers itself: Senate Republicans, or some significant portion of them, want Trump to lose.
If true, this wouldn’t be a surprise. From the very beginning of Trump’s presidency, D.C. Republicans found his victory a burden. Suddenly, they were expected to actually govern and keep some of their promises, rather than fill their preferred role as well-paid, graceful losers in American politics. The emptiness of the Congressional GOP was apparent right away: Given a majority in both houses, they had no serious plan for fixing immigration, and no plan for replacing ObamaCare (after promising one for six straight years when they had no capacity to act). As always, the Senate hid behind the filibuster as an excuse to do nothing. Of course, the filibuster is a legislative fiction, and could be repealed at any time, which is exactly what Democrats will do the next time they have unified control of Congress. But Republicans never even considered doing the same, because leaders like Mitch McConnell love the filibuster: It gives them an easy excuse for not fulfilling campaign promises.
The only promises they were eager to keep, of course, were the same ones they so disastrously kept during the Bush administration: slashing taxes for the donor class, and fomenting foreign conflicts to keep American troops in danger and American defense contractors well-paid.
If Trump is to win in November, then, he must do it the same way he did in 2016: By running against his own party. But if Trump does manage to win, he shouldn’t make the mistake he made in 2017, of trying to govern alongside those who openly aspire to sabotage his agenda. Allowing the GOP establishment to sway his administration nearly wasted the president’s entire first term. They cannot be allowed to ruin another.
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