White House signals interest in a woeful economic compromise

The White House is eyeing a deal in which Trump would get something he says he wants in exchange for Trump getting something he says he wants.
Image: *** BESTPIX *** President Trump Gives State Of The Union Address
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 04: House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) attempts to shake hands with President Donald Trump in the beginning of the State of the Union address as Vice President Mike Pence looks on in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 04, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump delivers his third State of the Union to the nation the night before the U.S. Senate is set to vote in his impeachment trial. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

If all goes according to plan, the Democratic-led U.S. House will vote later today on an ambitious, $3 trillion economic aid package, which would do an enormous amount of good for millions of Americans who need it. According to the latest tallies, the bill is likely to pass with at least a little Republican support.

But its prospects soon after are poor. Senate Republicans have spent the week treating the proposal like a pinata, and Donald Trump declared yesterday that the House plan is "DOA."

There is no GOP alternative to the Democratic aid package, and Republicans don't appear overly eager to work on one. Trump has said he's in "no rush" to engage in economic policymaking; Mitch McConnell said his party has not "yet felt the urgency of acting immediately"; and the White House said talks may not begin in earnest until June.

As a policy matter, the Republican Party's passivity is tough to defend, but as a political matter, the GOP is also taking a considerable risk. A New York Times report noted overnight that the party's resistance "is proving increasingly unsustainable, given tens of millions of anxious Americans out of work, businesses and schools shuttered and an election looming."

Indeed, the same Senate Majority Leader who insisted this week that there was no "urgency" to acting conceded yesterday that lawmakers will likely have to pass another aid package "at some point." Despite his rejection of the House plan, McConnell added yesterday that he's "certainly not ruling out another fiscal package."

Even the White House has quietly opened the door to some kind of deal on an economic bill, though as a Washington Post report from yesterday afternoon made clear, the devil is in the details.

White House officials have privately signaled that they are willing to provide tens of billions of dollars in relief to states as part of a bipartisan deal with Democrats in the coming weeks, despite President Trump's reluctance and strong opposition from conservative groups, according to seven people familiar with the internal deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

At first blush, this may seem encouraging. Providing aid to cash-strapped states is a key element of the House Democratic plan, and if Team Trump is prepared to endorse a package with such funding, this would go a long way toward striking a sensible deal.

The problem is what the White House would seek in return.

Although [support for state aid] is likely to anger some Republicans who have warned that Democrats want "blue state bailouts," many White House officials now believe that providing new funding to states to deal with challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic will be necessary if they want to secure their own priorities, such as tax breaks and liability protections for businesses, the people said.

This isn't likely to end well. In effect, Team Trump is looking at a possible agreement in which the White House would get tax breaks for people who don't need them and private sector liability protections. The GOP sees the latter as necessary because some businesses are forcing Americans back to work, despite the risks, and Republicans want to leave those workers with limited legal options if their employers' decisions cause illness, injury, or death.

In exchange, the president would grudgingly accept some state aid -- though far less than what House Democrats have in mind -- which is a policy Trump used to support. In fact, as recently as a month ago, Trump touted his support for state aid and characterized it as a bipartisan issue.

In other words, the White House is eyeing a deal in which Trump would get something he says he wants in exchange for Trump getting something he says he wants.

Why would House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agree to such a deal? She wouldn't.