Democrats, Take The Stimulus Deal Already

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S1: If you were rooting for Washington to pass another coronavirus relief package, watching the negotiations play out over the last few months, it felt a little like being on the sidelines of an especially contentious game of Chutes and Ladders. The Democrats in the House started things off back in May, pushing that hefty three point four trillion dollar bill. And then Senate Republicans kicked them back to square one.

S2: The Senate Republicans just didn’t even respond. At first, they just kind of looked at it like, you know, kind of like a turd on the floor. They’re like, we’re not even addressing that.

S3: Slate Jordan Weissman has been our stimulus correspondent from go, and then finally, Mitch McConnell came back with his one trillion dollar offer.

S2: The Democrats said absolutely not.

S3: There was that skinny version of the bill, just 500 billion dollars, the skinny bill.

S2: And then the White House went back to negotiating with House Democrats because obviously nothing was happening in Congress. Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi were not going to have productive conversations.

S4: And God only knows what is happening inside sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue right now.

S1: This weekend, after first pulling out of stimulus negotiations, the president seemed to want back in.

S5: Is a stimulus deal dead? Well, no, I don’t think it’s dead at all.

S1: I spoke to a White House advisor, even suggested, albeit handing Nancy Pelosi a blank check.

S5: And Speaker Pelosi is currently offering a two point triple, two point two trillion dollar deal. The president wants a bigger package than that. So are you Secretary Minutia now going to try to offer a bigger deal than a two point two trillion dollar proposal? He may. He may. Sectary administration is up to one point eight trillion. President Trump actually has always said I mean, I’ve heard him say it in the Oval as far as the key elements are concerned, the checks, the unemployment assistance, the small business assistance, we’ve got to help airlines that he would go further.

S1: He’s always said that he knows it feels like the Republicans are crying, uncle.

S4: Well, it sounds like the White House is crying, uncle. Right. Like we have we have the dynamics of these negotiations are a little bit bizarre. Right.

S1: Bizarre because different members of the same political teams don’t seem to be agreeing on what they want here. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin seems to say one thing to Nancy Pelosi. And then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says something totally different to the reporters who stalk him through the halls of the Capitol.

S4: It’s just not clear that we are going to ever get to, yes, for all three of the relevant parties, which is the House Democrats, the Senate Republicans and the White House.

S1: If you were on the calls between Manchin and Pelosi these days. Yeah. What would you tell them?

S2: Nancy Pelosi should take the White House’s deal. I think the big picture is that we have to keep in mind is that if we do not have a deal again, a lot of people are going to suffer this winter. It’s going to be bad. You know, I just I’m going to say I think it’s going to be pretty bad. And I just we’re we’re past the point where you should be allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

S3: Today on the show, with the House and the Senate stuck in trench warfare over coronavirus relief, Jordan makes the case for compromise economically, but also politically. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: I mean, the last time you were on talking about the stimulus, it was this kind of funny show because you were basically saying there’s no chance that a coronavirus stimulus passes there just to stock, even though it’s very necessary. But weirdly, the markets were kind of convinced that some kind of miracle will be pulled off here and it was keeping them afloat. Yeah, what what changed since we last talked? Well, so.

S6: Wins for diminution made the one point six trillion dollar offer. It was interesting because it was right at the moment when the when the stock market was actually wobbling a bit, I think it was it was getting close to re-election time. And, you know, so it was kind of we’re getting close the deadline and stocks were starting to get a little weaker. And so I have a private theory that maybe that was actually part of it, that the White House was kind of looked at what was happening to the S&P and thought, oh, we should just make one more push for this. And then, you know, since then, I think that what changed was just the complete chaos with Trump getting covid and his going completely feral afterwards and just his weird emotional mood swings, sense of sort of dictated everything in the government.

S4: But, you know, after he got sick, he came back and pulled the plug on negotiations. Then people told him that it looked bad and he overcompensated by going the other direction, saying there was much money as you want at them. And so it feels like what changed? Well, you know, the White House got a little bit nervous because the markets weren’t looking so good. And we’re heading and their poll numbers for the election weren’t so great.

S1: And Donald Trump has had a perpetual freakout ever since Trump abruptly ended stimulus talks in a tweet last week, which pushed the markets over the edge. Then the president backtracked. But the chaos of these negotiations, it means the fate of any new stimulus is far from guaranteed.

S6: And part of the reason that the stock market started to wobble was that investors began to realize that maybe a bill wasn’t coming. All right. That was also that was part all of a sudden there. You know, the hope you know, the joke is that for a while was that, you know, we could be living in Thunderdome and people and the Wall Street analysts would still be saying that the S&P was going up on hopes for stimulus talks. But for for a for a brief moment there, it seemed like the optimism had sort of faded and that was on among everybody. And that was kind of what restarted the deal. Now it just seems like I don’t know. I don’t you know, for some reason, the sense of urgency has just dissipated again.

S1: And it’s hard to say why can we talk about the shape of the recovery? Because Republicans like to talk about creating a firm bounce back, you know, the v shaped recovery just from down to up again. If you’ve been reading the business section, you might have heard about the k shaped recovery, where it seems like white collar workers are doing OK, but people who are not white collar workers aren’t. Yeah. So is it worth talking about who’s really feeling the impact right now?

S4: Yeah, I mean, K shaped is there are so many different shapes. There’s the swoosh, there’s the K, there’s the W. How many I’ve been talking about the drunken square root shaped economy has been my favorite description. But what if you look at some of the employment data that we get from sort of the private sector right now and that the researchers at Harvard’s Opportunity Insights Project have been tracking? It suggests that workers who make more than sixty thousand dollars a year say, you know, like a lot of them are white collar workers. People can telecommute, are almost back to full employment, like they’re almost back to normal. And people who make between like 30 and 60 are, you know, they’re they’re still hurting. But employment’s fallen by five percent. Right. It’s not totally catastrophic. And it’s really low wage service workers, people in that under thirty thousand dollar a year range who are still seeing double digit declines in employment. Right. I mean, they’re the people who are. And it makes sense. Right. What’s still closed? Restaurants, bars, gyms. I mean, like it’s, you know, these service industries that are high touch and people, you know, people aren’t going to right now are officially shut down.

S1: And so are there any good studies looking at how having these folks out of work, how long it could last, and whether or not doing a deal now could impact folks not just for the next few months, but for longer than that?

S6: How long could it last? How long the social distance and stay in place? Right. I mean, you don’t need to study for it. It’s just as as long as restaurants are shut down, you know, or or the only serving half their tables, you’re going to have fewer workers as long as concerts are banned. You know, the bartender is not going to have a job at the venue.

S4: And this is part of why a lot of people expected the recovery to slow down and never took the idea of a V shaped recovery very seriously, because there was a sense that, yeah, there was a lot of low hanging fruit where you you would see people go back. To work because they could telecommute or you would see the first wave of service employees go back when restaurants were able to kind of partially reopen, but eventually you would kind of hit a wall where certain jobs are just really, really hard to bring back as long as we have a pandemic going. So a lot of those people are still stuck on temporary furlough and we don’t know how long that will last. At the same time, you have this other worrying trend where more and more of these, quote, temporary layoffs have become permanent. They’re just that that you look at that number and it’s rising over time. We have these very obvious problems ahead of us. We’re already starting to see hiring slow like in the last jobs report. And if you don’t give people aid, if you don’t provide larger unemployment benefits or you don’t send them a check, eventually people are going to have a hard time just paying their bills. You know, we even in a weird way, been lucky because as bad as unemployment has been during this pandemic, Congress did just give us that huge shotgun blast of money at the beginning of the Keres Act that kept people afloat. And so, you know, we just have not we have not seen the level of hardship yet that you would associate with these levels of unemployment. But we could soon. And if Congress doesn’t do something, we’re running out of time for them to act. That’s the danger we’re facing.

S1: Could we talk about the political motivations for all three of the negotiating parties here, why they would want a bill, why they would not? I mean, I get it for the president, right? The president wants a big stimulus because it’s nice to have checks going out right before an election. That looks great for him. The Republicans in the Senate, why would they not want that?

S4: So there are several reasons. I think the there are some Republicans in the Senate who just do not like to spend. Right ideologically. They are opposed to government intervention, into government spending. And some of them think that their voters are as well or they are might be correct that their voters are. You know, Marsha Blackburn from Tennessee said during a recent meeting that passing a one point eight trillion dollar stimulus bill would, quote, be the end of our majority. I think that’s kind of a crazy take. But what she was essentially communicating was that a lot of conservative voters would probably stay home, the Republican base. Yeah, exactly. And I don’t I don’t think that is accurate. I don’t think in a general election, any candidate is going to be really harmed by voting for a massive relief bill. It could hurt them in the future, though, in a Republican primary. And I think that is probably weighing heavily in the back of the minds of some of the Senate Republicans that it couple a couple of years from now, four years from now, they could be in a primary where someone accuses them of profligate spending and giving into the Democrats and whatnot and bailing out blue states, whatever. So I think that is that is part of the motivation for Republicans. They fear that you could sort of have a Tea Party revival at some point and that if they if they pass a giant stimulus bill or relief bill at this point, they could become victims of it.

S1: OK, so so I get why the president wants it. I get why some Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t want it. Let’s talk about the Democrats in the House. Why wouldn’t Democrats want a deal now? And why do you think they should get over it?

S4: You do hear some whispers on the Hill, and I should say here, this is pure speculation because no one really knows for sure. But you do hear some people speculate that maybe Nancy Pelosi doesn’t really want to deal. Right, that she just wants to defeat Donald Trump at this point and that she knows that if he can’t pass another relief package, she’s done so. And so some people say, well, maybe Nancy is just sort of stalling. Right? She’s grandstanding and she’s not really you know, she’s she’s making impossible demands knowing that it’ll sabotage negotiations in the end. And and Trump’s going to go down in flames again. I don’t know that that’s I don’t know if that’s true. I really don’t. But it’s right.

S1: But it sounds like your concern is that there’s a political cost to that kind of gamesmanship.

S6: If that were true, it would be extremely disappointing. Like, to me, like there’s this. Why?

S4: Just because, you know, I don’t personally I don’t think that passing a stimulus bill at this point is going to be what saves Donald Trump. Right. Like I mean, it’s just we’re past that point. I don’t know if, like, getting you know, even if even if you were to pass legislation today, most of the checks wouldn’t even be out by the by November 3rd, or maybe a few of them would make it up, but seems unlikely, however much Donald Trump benefits from passing a large relief package right now. I think that pales in comparison to the potential suffering that people are going to face if we don’t pass one. And so just there’s I think there’s just ethically, you should be trying to reach some sort of an agreement for the good of the is mawkish as the sounds for the good of the country.

S1: But what about the argument that we can always pass it in the lame duck session or I mean, when we’re all back to work in January?

S4: Right. I mean, like if nothing’s going to happen to the lame duck session, like if if Mitch McConnell doesn’t really want to pass stimulus right now, there’s just there’s just absolutely no way he’s going to pass a relief bill if Joe Biden is president. Like, why would he help Joe Biden? Right. Look, you know what? If Joe Biden wins on November 3rd and and Mitch McConnell is sitting there deciding, hmm, do I do I pass a bill that will make sure the American economy is in better shape when Joe Biden becomes president and has to do less legislating himself? Or do I just kind of let things deteriorate from here? Which which part do you think Mitch McConnell is going to take? I mean, it just it’s I have very low expectations of anything happening in the lame duck. If Joe Biden wins, if Donald Trump wins, you know, maybe maybe something happens. You know, it’s possible at that point, Democrats just cry and say, OK, whatever, he’s our president. We we it’s time to pass some sort of legislation. But as of now, that doesn’t look like a particularly likely outcome. Trump is pretty far down in the polls.

S7: Jordan and I will be back after a break.

S1: I hear what you’re saying about the stimulus being the right thing to do, especially if there’s enough aid for state and local governments in there, because I think that that’s just a major sucking wound to the economy. But I guess I’m reminded of that old phrase. Your lack of planning is not my emergency. And I could see Nancy Pelosi embracing that. Like your chaos. Republican Party is not my mess to clean up.

S4: So I wouldn’t blame Nancy Pelosi for thinking that way. But it doesn’t. But it also it just doesn’t totally make sense to me. Right. Because in the end. You know, Pelosi could get a pretty damn good bill at this point at one point, eight trillion dollar bill, very close to what, the two point two trillion that she’s asking for.

S1: And she could and maybe more, because the more she Kudlow is saying this weekend, like, you know, the president wants to do more than Nancy Pelosi for somebody like me, who knows?

S6: She could she could probably get what she wants from Donald Trump at this point if she said yes, it seems like. And then at that and then from there it goes to Republicans in the Senate. And I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just at least throw it to them and say, hey, are you guys going to are you guys going to deny aid to millions and millions of unemployed Americans? And if they if they sign the deal, great. You know, Nancy got pretty close to what she wanted in the end. And if they don’t sign the deal, then she can just continue flogging Mitch McConnell for it.

S4: You know, just make him own it. Right. Like, at the very least, why wouldn’t you just make that the Republican Party own all of the pain and suffering that’s coming in December? If Christmas is going to be ruined for tens of millions of Americans, why not make sure you can pin it firmly on Mitch McConnell? Like, why not make him Scrooge?

S1: On Tuesday afternoon, Mitch McConnell announced he was going to try to push through a 500 billion dollar package, again, that skinny one. At the same time, the president was tweeting stimulus, go big or go home. This disconnect. It’s why Jordan thinks this is the perfect time for Democrats to forge ahead.

S6: It could be good for them to get a deal with the White House and on the condition that Donald Trump starts, you know, putting the screws to Mitch McConnell, you know, put it. Why not? Why not? Why not put Republicans in even more disarray heading into November? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t try to do that, especially when, like, you know, worse comes to worse. The Republican Party passes the deal and states and families and businesses get money like that. If that’s your the good political outcome as far as Nancy Pelosi is concerned, is that the Republicans just end up at war with themselves and the bad political outcomes that people are helped, like terrible.

S4: Like I mean, like that’s I mean, it just it doesn’t really seem like there’s a bad option here in taking more or less what the White House has on offer. And again, you can negotiate specific things like, you know, the White House wants things like liability protections that will prevent workers from suing their employers if they got infected from with covid on the job. And that’s extremely controversial. I don’t love it. It might be a version of that. Might be the price you have to pay in order to get more help to people who need it right now.

S6: But and you can you know, you can negotiate on what those liability protections look like. But just the basic shape of, you know, what’s on offer, it looks pretty good. It looks like, again, it’s just it covers most of your bases and it just seems like this is something that in theory, the House Democrats should want to do. But for some reason, they’re still you know, they’re still kind of at No.

S1: Yeah, I guess the thing that I worry about, think about is that is that the presidential aides have been very, very clear. The president wants to spend money on the things he wants to spend money on. So do we have evidence that the president is willing to compromise on things he may not want to spend money on, like sending some aid to New York and California?

S6: Yeah, I mean, the way the White House has compromised on a few major issues. I mean, for instance, it’s offering 300 billion dollars now for states and local governments. Again, it’s not what it’s not exactly what Democrats want. They wanted, you know, closer to like four hundred and fifty billion. But it’s 300 billion. OP ed. So, you know, it’s most of the way there. And then again, you know, Democrats originally wanted six hundred dollars a week in unemployment benefits. The White House is offering four hundred dollars through January and two dollars is not six hundred dollars. But it’s definitely enough to replace the income that a lot of these restaurant and Disney workers have lost when they were laid off. Right. I mean, you know, because so many people who are unemployed right now were people in these service industries, 400, 400 covers, a lot of their needs. So, I mean, it’s like I said, it’s not a perfect deal. It’s not exactly the Democrats are asking for, but it does tick off a lot of the boxes.

S1: Is there someone you’ve spoken to in the last six, eight months that you think about whenever you think about this package being stuck like you just like but that guy, the guy is waiting because a lot of people I’ve spoken to in the last six to eight months have already, like, seen their businesses fail.

S4: Right. Like like that’s one of the really I’ve spent a lot of time talking to small business owners for various stories, and a lot of them have already closed up shop. And that, you know, they sort of reached out to me because they are already on the verge. You know, I wrote like a piece about a music venue in D.C., U Street Music Hall that was basically banking on some sort of relief or they thought they were going to close at the end of this month and they already closed. They already gave in there. They’re permanently shutting down. You know, this guy, Rocco and I wrote a Dairy Queen owner in a mall in California. I wrote about at the very beginning of the season. He’s trying to sell his business. He’s basically given up. He doesn’t think he’s going to recover from it. I mean, they’re just you know, I’ve talked to gym owners and Texas or like children’s gym owners in Texas who have been evicted and things like that. It’s there’s already just a lot of pain. And, you know, if you read about what’s going on with, you know, people who haven’t been able to get unemployment benefits or seeing their benefits run out, you know, families end up in really dire straits. And it doesn’t it doesn’t take a lot of sophisticated analysis to figure out that the longer we go without any more help, the more people are going to suffer. I mean, that’s just seems obvious.

S3: Jordan Weisman, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me on. Jordan Weissmann is Slate’s senior business and economic correspondent, and that’s the show, What Next is produced by Jason de Leon, Mary Wilson, Elena Schwartz and Daniel Hewitt. We are led by Alicia Montgomery and Alison Benedict. You can find me when I’m not in a closet recording the show on Twitter.

S1: I’m at Mary’s desk and I’ll catch you back here tomorrow.