But McConnell (R-Ky.) refuses even to bring that bill up for consideration. He's far too busy rushing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett through the confirmation process to worry about the millions of Americans who have neither jobs nor prospects — and will slide into poverty unless more help arrives.
McConnell's stance is odd, given that both the Trump presidency and the GOP Senate majority are in grave danger of being swept away by voters. It is a general rule, after all, that endangered incumbents love nothing more than being able to shower their constituents with cash. Perhaps McConnell figures Trump is a goner anyway and wants to salt the fields for an incoming Joe Biden administration. Or perhaps he believes most Republicans in the Senate — those not running this year, or in no danger of losing — will balk at spending that much more money in stimulus, and that allowing the measure to pass with mostly Democratic votes would threaten his position as leader.
I'm focusing on McConnell because so much of the commentary about the need for new stimulus has given him a pass. He's not a potted plant in these negotiations. In fact, he could make all the difference — if he chose to do so.
This is a time of national emergency. A normal president would summon the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate to the White House and hammer out a deal. Trump is an abnormal president, however. He has repeatedly refused to speak to Pelosi about different rounds of aid and instead has sent Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to negotiate with her on behalf of the administration.
Mnuchin's latest offer adds up to $1.8 trillion, which makes it sound as if the two sides are not far apart: Why can't they just split the difference, agree on $2 trillion and get it done?
But it makes a big difference how all that money is spent — and what strings are attached to the aid. It matters how unemployment assistance is structured. It matters whether employers are granted sweeping immunity from lawsuits if they fail to protect their workers from the pandemic, a provision Republicans insist on and Democrats regard as a poison pill. It matters that state and local governments, their tax revenue decimated by the covid-19 recession, get the resources to provide basic services, as Democrats demand.
Trump, meanwhile, keeps changing his mind. Last week, he was arguing against a comprehensive stimulus package and in favor of a series of smaller, discrete bills — stand-alone legislation aiding the airline industry, for example. But Thursday, while appearing on Fox Business Network, he said "I would go higher" than the $1.8 trillion his administration proposed, adding the complaint that Mnuchin "hasn't come home with the bacon."
So much for the art of the deal. A president who snipes at his own chief negotiator, yet won't participate in the negotiations himself, clearly is not helping. Whom is Pelosi supposed to believe? Mnuchin, or his boss?
Even less helpful, however, is McConnell. He responded to Trump's "go big" comment by saying he still wants to go much smaller, somewhere in the range of $500 billion. "I'm putting on the floor what we think is appropriate to tackle this disease at this point," he told reporters.
So to critics who say Pelosi should just cave, that she should "not let the perfect be the enemy of the good," I ask: Exactly what is it that she's supposed to agree to?
What would be the point of accepting the Mnuchin proposal, which doesn't deliver the kind of assistance Democrats believe the nation needs, if McConnell has no intention of even letting the Senate vote on it? Why would she accept the $1.8 trillion figure, which Democrats believe is not enough, if Trump now says he wants to spend more?
It is indeed disgraceful that the federal government isn't doing more to help those suffering economically from the pandemic. Pelosi is trying her best to reach a stimulus agreement, but Trump is evidently incapable of making a deal. And McConnell is simply unwilling.