The circumstances sound almost satirical. Democrats, having been rewarded with power by voters, are moving forward with an ambitious relief package, which includes funding for, among other things, implementing a national vaccination program.
Republicans are expressing outrage -- because they want the authority to kill the legislation, and Democrats won't voluntarily hand the GOP that power. Politico reported overnight:
Democrats are vowing to move forward on a new stimulus package as soon as next week, with or without Republicans. Though Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have not officially said they plan to pursue a party-line approach through budget reconciliation, many Democrats now believe that's the only way forward. Republicans in the bipartisan coalition are crying out for President Joe Biden to change course and embrace his long-standing bipartisan inclinations.
In other words, Republicans genuinely seem to believe Biden has a responsibility to give the GOP the power to veto his own COVID relief bill.
Why in the world would any president do that? Because according to these Republican senators, it would generate bipartisan goodwill.
It's as if we're collectively watching a cartoon in which Lucy was disgusted by Charlie Brown walking away after suggesting she might let him kick the football this time.
At issue is a legislative procedure called the budget reconciliation process, which Democratic leaders are now willing to use to advance their COVID relief package. The tactic would prevent Republicans from killing the bill with a filibuster in the Senate -- which is why GOP senators are insisting Democrats take reconciliation off the table and voluntarily put their own legislation in jeopardy.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) went so far as to say some in his party feel "a little bit betrayed" that Democrats reached out to Republicans to work on the bill, but are holding out the possibility of passing the package without them.
The New York Times reported that some GOP senators have warned that unless Democrats give Republicans the power to derail the bill, "future attempts at negotiations" are in jeopardy.
No, seriously, that's what the report said.
For the sake of conversation, let's be generous and assume these complaints have been offered in good faith. If so, I think I can help Republicans understand why their position is so difficult to take seriously.
Hypocrisy: In the Trump era, Republicans didn't hesitate to use the budget reconciliation process to pass regressive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, which came after those same GOP lawmakers tried to use the same legislative tactic to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip millions of families of their health security. The party couldn't have cared less about "bipartisanship" or congressional "comity." Voters had put Republicans in a position of power; Republicans had goals they wanted to pursue; so they used the powers available to advance GOP goals. It's a little rich for those same Republicans to whine about Democrats doing the same thing.
History: As regular readers know, when Bill Clinton inherited a recession from his Republican predecessor, GOP lawmakers strung the Democratic White House along before voting against his plan. When Barack Obama inherited the Great Recession from his Republican predecessor, GOP lawmakers did the same thing. Joe Biden has now inherited another recession from his Republican predecessor, and it's hard to blame the new White House for learning from recent history.
Arithmetic: A grand total of eight Senate Republicans have offered to come to the table to work on a possible relief plan. Even if Democrats were to somehow manage to satisfy them -- a dubious proposition, to be sure -- that would still leave proponents short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
Post-policy: Republicans who've participated in the negotiations haven't presented much in the way of actual policy ideas. All the relevant GOP senators seem to want is less of everything: fewer investments, fewer resources, a smaller overall price tag, etc. It's not real governance for the minority party to tell the majority party, "Let's just shrink your plan."
The door would remain open: Assuming Democrats move forward with reconciliation, Republicans would still be welcome at the table. Their ideas would still be heard. Their votes would still be welcome. They just wouldn't have veto power.
Hollow threats: If Dems rely on reconciliation, "future attempts at negotiations" are in jeopardy? Try to think of an important piece of legislation in which 10 Senate Republicans would work with Democrats to advance a Democratic priority. Give up? Me, too.
Policy trumps process: All that matters is helping the country, not helping Republicans feel better about the process through which the country is helped. The goal here should obviously be doing the most good for the most amount of people. If that goal is supplanted by a political goal -- placating GOP senators' sensibilities -- Americans will suffer.
Once again, Republicans have presented Democrats with two options:
- Pursue a bipartisan bill, which would take several weeks to negotiate, which would deliver less economic relief, and which GOP senators might kill anyway.
- Pursue a Democratic bill, which could be considered more quickly, which would deliver more economic relief, and which stands a vastly better chance of actually becoming law.
Republicans are outraged that the latter is a real possibility. Even by 2021 standards, that's ridiculous.