The result is now the spectacle of Republicans trying to shame Democrats for blocking something Republicans oppose. On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “if you have unemployed people that have lost their enhanced unemployment, they need to call their Democrat senators and House members because they are the ones that are standing in the way of having those extended right now.” He left out that said extension would be only for one week, that Democrats opposed the one-week extension because they wanted it to be far longer and that Republicans ultimately want to slash that “enhanced unemployment” — a weekly payment above traditional unemployment coverage that was part of the Cares Act — from $600 to $200 a week. But that’s the pretzel logic the GOP is stuck with because it put off the policy work.
In fact, Republicans haven’t even hashed out the divides in their own caucus. When CBS’s John Dickerson asked about “heartburn” over another round of pandemic relief among some deficit-conscious Republicans, Meadows could only manage a feeble “yeah” before pivoting back to the temporary benefit extension. And when ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to react to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comments that 15 to 20 GOP senators still won’t vote for any coronavirus deal, Mnuchin lamely assured viewers that “Mark Meadows and I have been updating the president regularly.”
Had Republicans gotten to work months ago, this disastrous lapse in relief could have been avoided. But when the party’s leader has as much interest in policy details as a dog has in vegetables, why should we expect anything different?
If Meadows and Mnuchin have indeed been “updating the president regularly,” he’s not listening. On Saturday, in between retweeting slavish praise and Fox News clips, Trump tweeted, “Payroll Tax Cut plus Dollars!” What “plus Dollars” means is unclear, but the other part is not: The president remains obsessed with a payroll tax cut no one else is talking about, not even his own team. There are good policy reasons for this: With millions out of work, a payroll tax cut would be a particularly poorly designed stimulus. Nonetheless, Trump has pushed the idea repeatedly, and going into the intraparty negotiations, the administration insisted the Republican bill include a payroll tax cut. But like so many Trump White House “demands,” it was hot air: The GOP’s proposal, unveiled July 27, included no payroll tax cut.
Even as millions of Americans wait for desperately needed relief, the president is so out of touch that he’s the last person in Washington to know that his supposed priority was ditched by his own party days ago. No doubt many would argue that it’s for the best that Trump isn’t involved in policymaking. But the fact that the question is up for debate at all is terrible for the country. The only small comfort is that, after almost four long years, this nightmare may finally be coming to an end.