On economic aid, Republicans flounder, clash with one another

On economic aid, Republicans still can't figure out what to propose or how to propose it. Even by 2020 standards, this is cover-your-eyes humiliating.
Image: Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House on July 20, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

It was 10 weeks ago today when House Democrats, eager to stay ahead of a looming problem, approved a $3 trillion economic aid package. With CARES Act benefits set to expire in July, Dems saw the obvious value in bolstering the economy in the coming months, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll.

As regular readers know, Senate Republicans and the White House responded by condemning the progressive plan, while suggesting they'd eventually get around to proposing a GOP alternative.

Republicans have not, however, acted with any sense of urgency -- or coherence. Party leaders finally began talking to each other about a possible blueprint this week, with vows to release a plan to the public by Thursday. Yesterday, as Roll Call reported, the GOP's own deadline came and went without the release of a bill.

Senate Republicans delayed the release of their coronavirus relief package Thursday as they struggled to resolve policy disputes and iron out details of the trillion-dollar initiative. While Senate leaders had hoped to unveil their measure this week, lawmakers said late Thursday that the series of bills they are drafting would require more time and won’t be released until Monday at the earliest.

At a closed-door Senate GOP meeting this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) reportedly asked his colleagues, in reference to the economic talks, "What in the hell are we doing?" Evidently, there's still no clear answer to that question.

In fairness, it's worth acknowledging that party leaders have apparently sketched out a broad framework that they're comfortable with. Republicans apparently agree, for example, that Donald Trump's demands for a payroll tax break won't be included in their proposal, and they're also largely united in their opposition to the existing $600 weekly unemployment supplement.

But on a series of relevant details, GOP officials can't agree among themselves, which as Politico noted, left many in the party "flabbergasted."

Senate Republicans and the White House wasted a week at the worst possible time. Amid a series of crises -- with 30 million Americans unemployed and coronavirus cases spiking nationally -- White House officials and Senate GOP leaders couldn’t even come to an agreement among themselves on a starting point for a new relief package, let alone begin bipartisan talks with Democrats.

That last point is of particular interest. Republicans aren't working on a bill, per se; they're working on an opening bid. Whatever GOP lawmakers propose will simply be the starting point for negotiations with the House Democratic majority -- which has been waiting patiently for Republicans to get their act together for more than two months.

Everyone involved in the process realizes that the GOP's undrafted plan won't pass. It probably won't even come up for a vote in either chamber. It will merely help kick off a conversation.

And yet, the White House and Senate Republicans still can't figure out what to propose or how to propose it. Even by 2020 standards, this is cover-your-eyes humiliating.

It's also a reminder of the extent to which today's Republican Party is obviously not a governing party. (Perhaps someone ought to write a book about that.)

But as important as it is for the public to recognize the GOP's ongoing and unavoidable ineptitude, even more important are the real-world consequences for struggling Americans who need federal aid -- now.

Republican dithering will almost certainly leave millions of families, who are suffering through no fault of their own, worse off than they are today. If there's a defense for this, I can't think of it.