The Trump administration is prepared to make a roughly $1.8 trillion offer to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as it has begun to urgently seek a new economic relief package just three days after the president declared negotiations over.“Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” President Trump said on Twitter Friday. Later in the day, speaking on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, Trump said, “I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering.”
As Jeff Stein reports, the White House is floating a deal that would include more assistance for small businesses, as well as extended supplemental unemployment assistance and direct cash payments to individuals.
In many ways, a deal would be desirable, given the dire straits so many Americans are currently enduring. But if a deal does not happen, it would make a Trump loss more likely.
And in that potential outcome lies the possibility of an intriguing form of poetic justice, one in which Trump is brought down in part by the same sort of Republican economic orthodoxy that in 2016 he promised his voters he’d oppose, only to sell out and go all in on it.
As of now, the route to a deal remains unclear. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had opposed the White House’s last offer of $1.6 trillion as too stingy, and the latest offer is only slightly higher than that.
It’s also unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will end up truly supporting a deal. In the past he has insisted that his “red line” is that an agreement must include liability protections for businesses that might get sued by people who contract the coronavirus.
That provision, which seemed designed to make it easier to herd people back to work before the virus was tamed (as Trump and Republicans wanted), is opposed by Democrats. Which means that if Trump wants a deal, it may test whether McConnell will really hold to that “red line.”
Meanwhile, The Post reports that GOP aides don’t think any such deal could pass among Senate Republicans, due to its spending levels:
At an event earlier Friday in Kentucky, McConnell threw cold water on prospects for a deal, saying it was “unlikely in the next three weeks.” A Republican strategist close to McConnell’s office, granted anonymity to discuss internal GOP thinking, said that there was substantial opposition to the deal both within the administration and among congressional Republicans, predicting that a package of around $2 trillion would receive the support of “maybe 10” Senate Republicans. Conservatives are expected to push against the deal.
Even worse, Axios reports that Senate GOP leadership sources say Trump has “zero leverage” to push Republican senators to support a deal the White House might reach with Pelosi, and think trying to get them to do so could split the party. That’s because conservative senators will oppose these spending levels.
To be clear, it is always possible that Trump could succeed in getting Senate Republicans to support an agreement if the White House can reach one with Democrats. But if he does not, that sets up an interesting endgame.
Trump campaigned in 2016 as a different kind of Republican, one who was not reflexively opposed to large public expenditures on job creation or on the safety net, even promising universal health care and vowing to make Wall Street elites pay more in taxes.
Yet once in office, he largely threw aside those promises, embracing a plutocratic corporate tax giveaway that didn’t produce promised job-creating corporate investment, and trying to roll back health coverage for millions. His promised infrastructure spending program never materialized.
In so doing, Trump largely acquiesced to the conservative Republican economic orthodoxy he’d so successfully triangulated against in 2016. The tradeoff became that he’d bless GOP economic priorities and give conservatives their judges, and Republicans would act as apologists for his racism and white nationalism and as guardians against accountability for his self-dealing and corruption.
The idea was to coast on the good economic trends Trump largely inherited from Barack Obama, sailing on the illusion that those economic sellout moves had actually been good for workers, right into a glide path to reelection.
But the coronavirus upended that scheme, largely because of Trump. When he allowed it to rampage out of control the first time, it required a more strict economic lockdown than might otherwise have been necessary. Then after it was temporarily tamed, Trump pushed for a rapid reopening that caused a second economic pullback.
The rest is history. While Trump did support economic rescue efforts in the spring, that was only after Democrats pushed him into it. And now that Trump’s reelection hopes are cratering, he’s suddenly pleading for a massive public expenditure to help bail him out.
Yet conservative Republicans might not give it to him. And in so doing, Trump’s defeat might end up being hastened by the triumph of the very economic orthodoxy to which he had fraudulently acted as a foil to win power in the first place. Sad!