Republicans hold procedural high ground in debate over coronavirus stimulus bill


Republicans may hold the procedural high ground on the cornonavirus stimulus deliberations, given the House of Representatives’ continued absence from Washington, experts said Wednesday.

The fact that the House isn’t in town ups the pressure on the lower chamber to simply approve whatever the Senate sends over.

“If they get jammed by the Senate, the Senate leaves town, I think it’s pretty likely the House will come back and simply dispose of whatever the Senate gives them,” said Michael Steel, partner with public relations firm Hamilton Place Strategies and former press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner.

The Democratic House left Washington Friday after approving a bill to beef up safety net programs like unemployment insurance and food assistance as well as requiring some employers to provide paid sick leave. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Monday the planned votes for March 23 were canceled and members would get a 24-hour notice to return to Washington for “any developments requiring votes.”

But the Republican strategy of holding senators in Washington holds its own risks. “We’ve seen how fast they act with only the impetus of the jet fumes from an upcoming recess,” Steel said. “I think they want to pass something very big and go home.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, said his party would try to agree on a plan among themselves, and then with the White House and then show it to Democrats.

This didn’t sit well with Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said Tuesday developing a big package should be a bipartisan effort hashed out by party leaders in each chamber and with the White House.

“For the Republicans to first stick together and put together their plan, then work it out with the White House and then come to us, and then go to the House, will just slow things down,” the New York senator said.

Bill Hoagland, a former long-time Senate budget staffer and senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, said worries about jamming the House while it’s out could push back a big bill until House members return, which could mean mid-April for a final bill.

“The industries — airlines, cruise ships — it’s not like they’re going out of business tomorrow,” he said.

Adding to the complexity is disagreement over what would work best.

The Trump administration, cooled to the idea of payroll tax cuts and proposed delivering direct payments of $500 billion to Americans starting in April.

It is unclear how that proposal will be received. Many, even in GOP circles, are skeptical of that approach.

Doug Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and a White House economic official in the George W. Bush White House, said he wasn’t a fan of checks, calling them only “modestly effective at best.”

“We fire a big shot and you miss the target. What do you do next?” he asked.

In an interview, Judd Gregg, former Republican senator from New Hampshire involved in hammering out the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, was also skeptical. “I think checks are a mistake. It’s a one-time event and people will absorb it too quickly and it won’t have an impact,” he said.

Gregg said he’d like to see a “radically” expanded unemployment insurance program with payments doubled in size and expanded to included gig economy workers, as well as a mechanism to support small businesses. He also said changes should be made to give the Federal Reserve more of its authorities it had before the Dodd-Frank banking system overhaul.

Tony Fratto, founder of Hamilton Place Strategies and a White House spokesman in the George W. Bush administration, said checks could go out faster this time than in 2001 or 2008 because there will be fewer calculations to be made to determine eligibility.

Getting to a stimulus pact will be messy, but will yield a substantial response to keep the economy from collapsing, most said. Holtz-Eakin noted the House made corrections to its own bill within days of passage. “I think that tells you how this is going to go,” he said.

Fratto said local newscasts will soon begin showing the economic impact of the shutdown caused by the coronavirus, which will keep lawmakers at the bargaining table. “Members of Congress aren’t dumb. They know that that’s coming,” he said.

Gregg, who prided himself on a reputation as a parsimonious Yankee when he was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, had no worries about the cost of a big package, because borrowing costs are almost non-existent for the government right now. “I mean, if you’re going to do a trillion dollars at zero, do it,” he said.

Gregg also lawmakers should aim to finish everything by the end of the week or sooner.

“We had divided government in 2008. We had a presidential election that we were in the middle of and we did it in 72 hours. The difference now is this is a much less focused exercise,” he said.

— Raised in Oklahoma, Jonathan Nicholson is a Washington, D.C., journalist who has covered economic and budget policy for more than 20 years.

Source : MTV