Michael Grunwald argues in Politico that House Democrats have a lot of bargaining power in negotiations over the next coronavirus relief bill, but that they are not aggressively using their leverage. He suggests that Democrats are holding back because they are worried about being labeled obstructionist and getting blamed if legislation does not pass.
I agree with some of his analysis and have doubts about other parts. But here I want to make a suggestion for getting an aggressive but narrowly-tailored bill through Congress.
Suppose that House Democrats quickly put together a new Democratic CARES 2 bill that aggressively attacks the epidemic. The CARES 2 bill should include more aid for small business, funding for state and local governments, hospitals, transit agencies, the Post Office, etc. It should extend the unemployment insurance provisions until the unemployment rate falls below, say, 5%. It should impose stricter oversight on the Trump administration. It should repeal the tax cut for real estate developers that was included in the first CARES act. It should include tens of billions in funding to increase testing capacity and to make masks widely available. It should include reforms to ensure that the 2020 election is fair, such as national vote-by-mail. The bill can and should be aggressive, but it must be narrowly-tailored to fighting the epidemic. No Christmas-tree stuff that makes it look like the Democrats are exploiting the crisis for narrow partisan purposes.
Because this would be a Democratic bill, it cannot pass the House by unanimous consent. So suppose House Democrats come back to Washington and pass the bill. They would be risking their lives to do right by the American people. Seeing the older – and even elderly – House Democratic leadership wearing face masks as they take an emergency vote would be inspiring to many Americans. And then the House Democrats should go home to be safe. It would be up to the Senate to take or leave the Democrats offer. If Republican Senators whine about this or that provision, the Democrats can say there will be time to fix it later, but that right now what is needed is for the Senate to come back into session and pass the House bill. The Democrats’ courage in returning to Washington would make it difficult for Republicans to blame them for obstruction, and, as Grunwald says, Trump and the Republicans need a bill just as much as Democrats do.