Now this mini-era of good feeling may be ending, though there is still a vast need for more federal help, particularly for cash-strapped small businesses, low-income households and state and local governments. The Republican Senate, the Democratic House and the Trump White House are laying out what might be incompatible wish lists. This time, all three seem more determined to condition support for spending on policy changes; it is vital that their various red lines not be allowed to stand in the way of recovery funds.
States face an aggregate $300 billion budget shortfall over the next 27 months, according to a Moody’s estimate. Democrats on the Hill (and some Republicans, too) are right that the federal government should cover that, with the proviso that money not be used to bail out a handful of the most mismanaged state pension systems, as Mr. Trump and his party insist.
But, perhaps paradoxically, the first step to assuring this outcome will be to relax the de facto ban on policy agendas that has heretofore prevailed — to the extent making new policy also legitimately relates to needs created by the crisis. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insists on liability relief for reopening businesses, let it be temporary and carefully tailored to the special risks posed by a pandemic. Mr. McConnell, in turn, should concede Democrats are right to insist on funding for election security and ballot access so that Americans may vote both massively and safely this fall. Democrats should be willing to accept reasonable fraud-limitation measures in return.
Some proposals, such as the Democrats’ demand for tens of billions in new subsidies for the Postal Service, or Mr. Trump’s insistence on a payroll tax cut, are too poorly targeted to merit inclusion — and probably are meant more as political messaging anyway. The president’s suggestion that he might use funding to strong-arm “sanctuary” states into changing their policies toward the undocumented is a particularly noxious bit of posturing.
The next pandemic-response bill is likely to be the last one before the election and, not coincidentally, the hardest-fought politically. If enough of their prior sense of pragmatism survives, however, lawmakers can ensure that it helps protect public health and salve economic hardship. And it should happen soon: Let the bargaining begin.