So it turns out the real reason congressional Democrats blocked a Senate coronavirus relief bill on Sunday wasn’t because they were concerned it favored corporations over individuals or because they wanted more direct aid to families and small businesses. It was because they want to use this crisis as pretext for passing a bunch of Democratic policies that have nothing to do with the pandemic.
On Monday, right around the time Senate Democrats blocked a $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill for the second time in as many days, we found out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fresh from a weeklong vacation, has her own bill, a 1,400-page monstrosity chock full of mandates, regulations, and nonsensical federal programs that leftists would enact if they were king for a day.
Many of the provisions in Pelosi’s bill have no discernable relation to the coronavirus pandemic, much less helping families and small businesses facing economic ruin. There are sections mandating “risk-limiting audits” of election results, early voting, same-day voter registration, mandatory reporting for federal agencies on their use of minority-owned banks, new rules for the retirement plans of community newspapers, and even a section requiring airlines to provide passengers information about greenhouse gas emissions from flights they took. The list goes on, like a parody of Democratic governance.
But it’s not a parody, it’s an old Democratic tactic—especially for Pelosi. Remember President Obama’s $830 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009? It was supposed to fund those now-infamous “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects but in the end mostly went to federal welfare programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and extended unemployment insurance.
That wasn’t an accident. Pelosi was speaker of the House back then, and she helped transform the stimulus into a massive welfare bill, arguing that injecting billions of dollars into food stamps and unemployment insurance would somehow generate economic activity. It didn’t, which is one reason the recovery under Obama was so sluggish—and why he was so thoroughly panned last month for bragging the stimulus paved the way for “more than a decade of economic growth.”
Dems Have Other Priorities Than Struggling Americans
Seen in that light, it’s hard not to think Democrats have been angling to pull this same trick since the coronavirus crisis broke. Over the weekend, The Hill reported on a conference call held Thursday with hundreds of Democratic lawmakers that laid out a sweeping wish list of provisions to include the relief package. Majority Whip James Clyburn reportedly said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”
And there’s nothing like a pandemic-caused economic crash to justify giving unions unprecedented collective bargaining power, increasing fuel-emission standards for airlines, and expanding wind and solar tax credits.
This isn’t to say that Senate Republicans had a really great relief bill or that they struck just the right balance between bailing out corporations and helping families and small businesses. The package Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed certainly had its share of non-coronavirus bailouts for major industries, and we have yet to see much appetite in Washington for creative, targeted solutions to the coming solvency crisis along the lines my colleague Christopher Bedford has laid out in these pages.
But the aid package Senate Democrats torpedoed—supposedly in favor of Pelosi’s progressive grab-bag of a bill—would have at least helped stanch the bleeding in many major industries, providing half a trillion dollars in loans and another $350 billion to help small businesses pay their employees, as well as giving some direct relief to American families.
At this point, it’s unclear if any help will be coming from Washington. Congressional Democrats apparently think their Republican counterparts would rather accept Pelosi’s catch-all bailout than come up empty-handed.
Maybe they’re right. Democrats proved back in 2009 they’re far better at exploiting a crisis than Republicans are. In the coming days, expect Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to trot out the same arguments used to pass the Obama stimulus.
Then as now, their relief bill, if they get it, won’t actually stimulate economic recovery. If anything, it will be a drag on recovery, just as the 2009 stimulus was. But for Pelosi and the Democrats, this isn’t really about the economy or even the coronavirus. A crisis is a crisis, after all, and they never let one go to waste.