The Fiscal Stimulus Gridlock

The Fiscal Stimulus Gridlock

The best can be said about a possible fiscal stimulus in the face of a renewed Covid-19 surge that is dragging the economy down as many areas shut down in various degrees is that at least a few hours ago the US Senate approved a one week continuing budget resolution to keep the fed govt functioning. In past years govt shutdown was a big deal, but with the current president threatening to seize power in a coup even in the face of the SCOTUS unanimously repudiating his final “Kraken” lawsuit, not to mention the positive drama of the FDA approving the Pfizer vaccine for US use, well, a govt shutdown right now does not look like such a big deal. But, hey, for at least the next week it will not happen, snore.

But we are facing a much more serious matter than the matter of just keeping the US fed govt going now, given that the US economy seems on the verge of possibly going into “double dip,” as cutbacks on economic activity spread as we see the coronavirus surging across the country. The House back in either April or May or thereabouts passed the HEROES bill that was a $3 trillion bill. Mitch McConnell in the Senate said no.

I do not precisely know when, but some months later, in an effort by House Speaker Pelosi, an attempted “compromise” bill was passed in the House of a bit over $2 trillion . This also led to no response from McConnell, and I note that it is not a matter of the Constitution that the Majority Leader of the Senate can single-handedly block for consideration bills passed by the House, much less presidential nominations for the Supreme Court as when in 2016 McConnell blocked even the consideration of Obama’s nomination of the clearly centrist nominee, Merrick Garland.

Which brings us to now, with the economy on the verge of a likely double dip decline, and the debate in Congress now reduced to an approximately $900 million deal, something put together by a bipartisan  group of centrists, a deal that by now has dropped the obvious demand of handing out money directly to people as was done earlier this year and so many other nations have done, an approach now backed by the vast majority of professional economists, with Noah Smith recently arguing, arguably a bit over the top, that all of macroeconomics has simply become “Give them money.”

Anyway, it has looked like maybe this reduced proposal, that does not do what Noah and the vast majority of economists say should be done, has bogged down and is not being passed.  It seems that the rarely seen bipartisan committee agreed upon a deal that had a temporary cover for McConnell’s demand that businesses not be liable for making their workers sick from Covid-19 and some reduced amount for state and local govts.

But McConnell has rejected this bipartisan proposal, already much reduced from the earlier bills passed by the House. Why he has done so is the question, although he has invoked both wanting a full liabitily protection along with a larger cutback for state and local aid.  At this point we must note that much is up in the air. Yes, Joe Biden will indeed be inaugurated as the legal President of the United States at noon on 1/20/21. But many will be contesting that, with half of Trump voters so out of touch with reality to think that Trump will actually be taking that oath of office on Jan. 20.

So obviously McConnell is playing the long game, having just gotten reelected in Kentucky. I think he is planning to replay what he did in 2009 and after, simply oppose anything Biden proposes in an effort to gain against him in 2022 and then oust him in 2024.  We have people like Ted Cruz saying the Senate should not approve any cabinet appointee of Biden.  Presumably, Biden could imitate Trump and simply appoint his people on an “Acting” basis and proceed to govern. 

Frankly the bottom line seems to be that he wants to reprise how he played things after 2008, complete opposition to any admin proposal with the hope that the economy will do badly so the GOP can do well in future elections, with an eye to bringing down the economy as the coronavirus worsens, thus bringing back a hope for Trump or some other Republican in 2024. Given all the immediate noncertainties in the political sphere, how this all turns out remains very much up in the air right now.

Barkley Rosser