Early in Barack Obama’s presidency, Democrats wasted months on futile hopes of wooing Republican support for his major priorities. Key bills such as the 2009 stimulus and the Affordable Care Act were watered down in return for little or no GOP support. With President Biden’s team learning from the Obama administration’s mistakes and plowing ahead on its own with a covid-19 relief package, some Senate Republicans have put out a counterproposal, supposedly to prove that they can be bipartisan after all.
Instead, they’re just proving how little they have to offer.
Sunday morning, 10 Senate Republicans — the number it would take to overcome a filibuster if combined with all 50 members of the Democratic caucus — announced a coronavirus stimulus proposal totaling $600 billion. “We want to work in good faith with you and your administration to meet the health, economic and societal challenges of the covid crisis,” the group wrote in a letter to Biden. The move was meant to head off a Democratic push to bypass the Republicans by using the budget reconciliation process, which is not subject to the filibuster, to pass a relief bill.
Considering just the top-line number, it’s insulting for Republicans to pretend that a proposal less than a third the size of the White House’s $1.9 trillion package is a serious compromise offer. But the breadth of what the plan cuts from the Democrats’ plan is remarkable. Among other reductions, stimulus checks would be reduced to $1,000 (and phased out at $50,000 in income for individuals, rather than $75,000), supplemental unemployment insurance would be trimmed by $100 a week, and there would be no state and local aid or minimum wage increase at all.
The emptiness of this proposal was personified on the airwaves Sunday by two of the 10 proposers: Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who went on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
First, it seemed not everyone was on the same page about the basics: While Cassidy knew the plan’s top-line cost, Portman bizarrely did not. “Well, it will be less than $1.9 [trillion]" was the best that Portman, who recently announced his upcoming retirement, could muster.
As for the policy details, Cassidy and Portman tried to defend smaller stimulus checks. Both senators sidestepped explaining the reduction to $1,000 to focus instead on the lower income threshold. “Our money goes to that income level where we know it will stimulate the economy,” Cassidy told Fox News. Funny how neither Portman nor Cassidy had such concerns when it came to the Trump tax cuts, which delivered windfalls for the wealthiest Americans and increased inequality. And if the argument is that the relief is better targeted, then why reduce that relief? The only reason to offer less is that Republicans think struggling Americans need less.
More broadly, neither of the senators had good explanations as to why Democrats are wrong for seeking to go ahead without them. Cassidy complained that it wasn’t in keeping with Biden’s inauguration calls for “unity” — a thoroughly substance-less gripe. Portman argued that using reconciliation to force a party-line vote “will poison the well for other bipartisanship we will need on so many issues" — only for host Dana Bash to point out that, when Republicans controlled Washington, Portman supported using reconciliation for partisan moves like repealing the Affordable Care Act.
To be fair to Cassidy and Portman, they didn’t have a good reason for why Biden and the Democrats should listen to them because there is no reason to do so. In a vacuum, voters may say they like bipartisanship, but in the real world they value results more. Any American able to pay their rent thanks to $1,400 stimulus checks won’t care what process was used to pass those checks. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, “The question is not bipartisanship, the question is addressing the unprecedented crisis that we face right now. If Republicans want to work with us, they have better ideas on how to address those crises, that’s great. But … I have not yet heard that.”
If that day ever comes, then Democrats should certainly embrace bipartisanship. Until then, it’s full-steam ahead on the one-party train.
Watch Opinions videos: