Will Mitch McConnell stop President Donald Trump’s stimulus deal?
Here’s what you need to know.
Senate Republicans are united around one major accomplishment before the election on November 3—and it’s not a stimulus deal. Republicans want to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett as the next Supreme Court Justice. Make no mistake: Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY), who has led a successful campaign to confirm conservative judges to the federal bench and conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, will focus intently on a smooth Senate confirmation process, which begins today. Under McConnell’s leadership, between now and the election, Republicans will show solidarity to increase their stronghold on the federal judiciary. What’s the latest with the new stimulus package? Isn’t that the top priority in Washington? Not necessarily. As Democrats and Republican trade offers for the next stimulus package, it’s becoming clearer who may want a stimulus deal before the election and who could wait until after November.
Trump wants a stimulus deal
- Trump stimulus deal: Trump may want a stimulus deal more than virtually anyone in Congress. Trump has said repeatedly that he wants a stimulus package to provide economic relief to the American people. This includes $1,200 stimulus checks, enhanced federal unemployment benefits, small business loans and more. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who along with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is representing the Trump administration in stimulus talks with Democrats, said Trump would be willing to agree to a $1.8 trillion stimulus package.
- Bigger stimulus package: Trump said on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show Friday that he prefers a stimulus package that is larger than both Republicans and Democrats want. “I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering,” Trump said.
- Stimulus deal and the election: This suggests that Trump would support a stimulus package greater than $2.2 trillion. Why? Trump is facing re-election in three weeks. A stimulus deal before the election means that Americans can receive stimulus checks signed by Trump right before they cast a ballot. In addition to the financial benefits, it’s hard to overlook the political benefits too.
Pelosi may want a stimulus deal, but not immediately
- Pelosi stimulus deal: Pelosi may want a stimulus deal, but she is willing to wait until it’s the right deal. That can have a good or bad outcome, depending on how you view that approach.
- Stimulus deal now: Pelosi could agree to a stimulus deal now, but she wants more federal funding for her policy priorities. Holding out could result in a higher offer from Trump.
- Stimulus deal later: Or, Republicans could walk away and blame Pelosi and Democrats for stalling, preventing a stimulus deal and putting politics ahead of helping the American people.
- Pelosi rejects Trump stimulus deal: Pelosi has rejected Republicans’ proposal to pass piecemeal legislation on areas of bipartisan support such as stimulus checks, suggesting that immediate stimulus is not her highest priority.
McConnell may want a stimulus package, but it’s not his highest priority
- McConnell stimulus deal: McConnell has said repeatedly that he will support a stimulus package such as the Heals Act, which includes $1 trillion of federal spending. He also endorsed a $500 billion, scaled-back Republican stimulus package.
- Supreme Court Justice confirmation: However, McConnell is now focused on ensuring a smooth Senate confirmation process for Barrett’s nomination. The White House, not McConnell, has been leading stimulus talks with Democrats. That’s symbolic and informative. McConnell may support a stimulus package to help Republicans gain favor in the upcoming election, but McConnell also could wait until after the election to determine who wins the White House.
- Republicans stimulus deal: Senate Republicans don’t universally support a stimulus package, particularly a $2 trillion stimulus deal. Fiscal conservatives already have expressed concern regarding the trillions that Congress already has spent this year in existing economic stimuli.
Does Congress want a stimulus deal?
Both Democrats and Republicans have spent political capital to push their ideal stimulus proposal. McConnell predicted in late July that a stimulus deal could be reached in August. Three months later, Congress has not finalized a stimulus package. This suggests at least somewhat that the next stimulus package, if there is one, is not about immediate financial support for the American people. If it were, Congress would have finalized intermediate financial relief such as stimulus checks or unemployment benefits. However, that hasn’t happened. At this juncture, the stimulus talks are more about political and electoral posturing. If both parties want a stimulus deal done before the election for their respective benefit, a stimulus deal will get done. It’s clear the Trump administration wants a stimulus deal before the election. However, it’s unclear if Congress wants a stimulus deal done before November. Both Democrats and Republicans effectively rejected Trump’s $1.8 trillion stimulus proposal. Democrats say the price tag is too low, while Senate Republicans say it’s too high.
Next Steps: Stimulus
Will there be a stimulus deal? In Washington, in an election year, anything can happen. However, the focus should be on McConnell. Even if Pelosi and the Trump administration “agree” on a stimulus deal, Congress still has to pass the stimulus package. The Mnuchin-Pelosi agreement is symbolic in a sense—they need congressional support. Even if McConnell is not directly involved in stimulus discussions, McConnell in many ways is the most influential in Congress to get a deal done now or defer until after the election. Here are some potential outcomes of what happens next with a potential stimulus deal:
Option 1: Republicans support Trump and agree to a stimulus deal
It’s possible that Republicans rally around the president to show solidarity as Americans vote next month, even if they disagree with the amount of spending or the underlying policy proposals. The advantage is they can show constituents that they delivered economic relief during the Covid-19 pandemic. (Democrats would make the same argument).
Option 2: Republicans and Democrats don’t reach a stimulus deal
Each political party blames the other for a stimulus proposal that is too high (Republicans blaming Democrats) or too low (Democrats blaming Republicans). Despite the stalemate, maybe that’s enough to energize their respective bases in the upcoming election. (”We tried, but the other party just wouldn’t agree to our reasonable proposal.”)
Option 3: Congress finalizes stimulus deal, but electorate says “too late”
Congress may reach a stimulus deal before the election. For example, Pelosi could accept the president’s latest proposal, or Republicans and Democrats could agree to Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion proposal (or somewhere in between). Both parties could claim credit for a stimulus deal. However, the American people may not give any “electoral credit” to either party because they wanted financial relief months ago. So, neither party may win political favor.
Option 4: Republicans and Democrats defer a stimulus deal until after the election
A no-deal scenario doesn’t mean there won’t ever be a stimulus. Congress could defer a stimulus deal until February after the next president is inaugurated. While many people are focused on the presidential election, it’s the Senate races that matter most. When it comes to the next stimulus package, watch who controls the U.S. Senate after the November election. Of course, the presidential election is important, but Congress (not the president) passes the next stimulus package. The president can veto the legislation, but the first step is for Congress to pass any new stimulus package. It’s also possible that Pelosi is trying to hold out for an even larger stimulus deal if Democrats gain control of the Senate and her candidate wins the White House.
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