Need for economic aid is obvious, but it's not happening

"We will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election," Trump said four days before Election Day. If only he'd meant it.
Image: People wait to file for unemployment at the Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith on April 6, 2020.
People wait to file for unemployment at the Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith on April 6, 2020.Nick Oxford / Reuters

Four days before Election Day, a reporter asked Donald Trump about the prospects for an economic aid package. "We will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election," the president replied.

Oh, how I wish that were true.

Two weeks after Election Day, Trump has largely abandoned efforts to improve the economy, and the work of government "has been reduced to something of a sideshow for the president." The outgoing Republican published a tweet late last week about a "big" relief bill, but he spent the weekend golfing instead of trying to negotiate a deal.

And while the need for an aid package seems painfully obvious, Politico reported this morning that talks aren't even underway.

There are no conversations right now about another round of Covid relief. None. The White House is silent. The Hill is quiet. That means no new programs, no new money for Americans before the holiday season. But equally notably, a number of crucial provisions expire at the end of this year, which is 44 days from now.... In other words, a huge safety net for Americans is going to be yanked away at the end of 2020, and Congress isn't preparing much of anything to keep people from plummeting.

Politico's report sketched out a series of economic policies -- including emergency unemployment aid -- that will soon evaporate, which in theory should spur action among policymakers. And yet, if there's one thing nearly everyone involved can agree on, it's that nothing is likely to happen before the end of the year.

But to blame "Congress" is to paint with too broad a brush, and to blame the president is a little too easy, since he's never shown any interest in policymaking anyway. E.J. Dionne Jr. was far more specific:

There is a broad consensus among economists and businesspeople that a pandemic-battered economy, kept afloat by large-scale spending earlier in the year, needs another major boost. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is unwilling to budge on his original offer of $500 billion even as his Democratic counterparts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), have already slashed their own opening bid by $1.2 trillion. The Democrats' $2.2 trillion plan is much closer to what the economy needs. And it would be far better to get this done now, before Biden takes office, than to delay action for two months or more.

For what it's worth -- and it may not be worth much -- almost immediately after Mitch McConnell cruised to an easy re-election victory, he said at a press conference that he still intends to work on an economic aid package.

"As I've said repeatedly in the last few months, we need another rescue package," the GOP leader said, adding, "I think we need to do it and I think we need to do it before the end of the year. I think that's job one when we get back."

This is proving to be about as meaningful as Trump's "immediately after the election" vow from Oct. 30.