'It's a Mess'

'It's a Mess'

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Plus, fight the coronavirus with F-35s?
Tuesday, July 28, 2020

‘It’s a Mess’: GOP Divided Over Its Own Coronavirus Bill

The coronavirus relief bill released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) yesterday received plenty of criticism Tuesday — with much of it coming from fellow Republicans.

At a lunch with Trump administration officials, some GOP senators reportedly complained about the $1 trillion price tag of the package, their lack of input in the bill’s writing process and the puzzling inclusion of funds to build a new FBI headquarters building across the street from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Highlighting the lack of unity among Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, "I think if Mitch can get half the conference that’d be quite an accomplishment."

Saying he didn’t really know what was in the bill, John Kennedy (R-LA) joked that Republicans "have unity in disagreement."

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) said he was baffled by the proposal. "It’s a mess," he said. "I can’t figure out what this bill is about. I don’t know what we’re trying to accomplish with it."

Storming out of the meeting early, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) criticized the bill’s cost. "It’s just very frustrating to me because it’s people who go home and say we’re fiscally conservative, [and] are now in a bidding contest with the Democrats to see how much money they can spend," he said.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) seemed to share those concerns, particularly the proposal to provide state and local governments with more flexibility to spend federal funds. "I’m very concerned about the amount of money we’re talking about," Scott said. "What I don’t want to do is bail out the states. That’s wrong."

McConnell responds:
The majority leader recognized the party divisions Tuesday. "I have members who are all over the lot on this," he said. "This is a complicated problem. We’ve done the best we can to develop a consensus among the broadest number of Republican senators — and that’s just the starting point, that’s just where we begin in dealing with the other side and with the administration."

McConnell added that he assumed the final bill would be more focused. "When we get to the end of the process, I would hope all of the non-Covid-related measures are out, no matter what bill they were in at the start," he said.

The unrelated measures include the controversial funding request for the FBI headquarters. On Tuesday, the Trump administration admitted that the request had nothing to do with the pandemic. "There are a number of things in the last bill that had nothing to do with the coronavirus," said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. "I think everybody acknowledges that it’s a funding mechanism."

Democrats no less critical:
Democratic leaders said that the Republican bill gave them little to work with. "The Senate GOP proposal is a sad statement of their values, selling out struggling families at the kitchen table to enrich the corporate interests at the boardroom table," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. Pelosi also said that she couldn’t understand why Republicans would offer a bill that lacked support from within their own party.

Tough negotiations ahead:
The discord in Washington suggests that it could take a good deal of time and effort to reach an agreement for the next coronavirus bill.

As bipartisan negotiations on the next coronavirus package get underway, Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer noted in their Tuesday morning Playbook that "the general consensus of aides in both parties, on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is that Democrats have a healthy negotiating edge" given that a broad portion of the Senate Republican caucus is going to oppose the bill, making Democratic support all the more crucial.

Playbook laid out three scenarios for how the talks could go in the near term:

1. A quick deal:
"The two sides scramble to reach agreement this week. That’s not going to be easy at all. One side would have to cave."

2. A short-term patch:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made clear she has no interest in a narrower, short-term deal that would push off a more sweeping package. "A short-term deal would require acrobatics," Sherman and Palmer write, "and that kind of maneuvering may be hard to come by."

3. Enhanced unemployment benefits expire and the pressure builds:
"Frankly, it seems likelier than not that Congress will be unable to do anything by Friday. If so, enhanced unemployment benefits will run out, which will scramble all sorts of considerations."

The House is scheduled to leave town at the end of this week for an extended summer break. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said lawmakers would be on call to return for a vote — but that would require a bill being ready for them to vote on.

Fight the Coronavirus With F-35s?

In addition to the roughly $1.8 billion the Republican proposal seeks for a new FBI headquarters building, the bill includes more than $7 billion for various weapons systems.

A partial list of military items in the bill, which, as Roll Call notes, appears to benefit the country’s two largest defense contractors, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, the most:

  • $1 billion for Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.
  • $283 million for Boeing Apache helicopters.
  • $650 million for A-10 Warthog attack jet refurbishment, a program run by Boeing.
  • $200 million for Boeing’s Ground-Based Midcourse Defense anti-missile system.
  • $686 million for Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth jets.
  • $720 million for Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules transport planes.
  • $1.5 billion for four medical ships.
  • $375 million for upgrading Stryker infantry vehicles, a program run by General Dynamics.

A spokesperson for Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Appropriations Committee, defended the inclusion of weapons in the bill. "The Defense Industrial Base (DIB) is essential to our economy and to the defense of our nation," the spokesperson said. "This bill takes steps to ensure that the DIB, along with the millions of jobs it provides, are supported."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, criticized the overall bill as inadequate, adding that, "If all of this were not bad enough, the bill contains billions of dollars for programs unrelated to the coronavirus, including over $8 billion for what appears to be a wish-list from the Department of Defense for manufacturing of planes, ships, and other weapons systems."

Editorial of the Day: ‘This Is No Way to Design Coronavirus Fiscal Policy’

The editorial board at Bloomberg takes Republicans to task for their handling of the coronavirus relief package:

"Details of the next phase of coronavirus relief should’ve been resolved long before now — because the main ideas shouldn’t be controversial and time will be needed to implement them. Delay has compounded the problem. Temporary fixes, meaning further argument and holdup, will probably be needed to bridge the gap between the current measures and whatever comes next.

"The blame for this object lesson in Washington dysfunction lies squarely with the administration and its Republican allies. They are only now presenting their response to the Democratic plan that was passed by the House in May. The Democrats’ plan is certainly capable of improvement, but that’s no reason to leave so many households unsure of where they stand or to burden the economy with further needless uncertainty."

The editorial calls for federal unemployment insurance benefits that would replace 80% to 90% of a worker’s prior earnings, higher than the 70% the GOP proposed, and $400 weekly payments until states can figure out how to implement the wage-replacement program, in between the current $600 and the $200 Republicans have suggested.

On the size of the overall package, Bloomberg's editors advocate for a compromise between the GOP’s $1 trillion and Democrats’ more than $3 trillion, with the spending tied to the state of the pandemic and economy. "A balance has to be struck between the extraordinary demands of the coronavirus emergency and the need, in due course, to restore fiscal discipline," it says.

Read the full editorial here.

Fiscal Flashes

Yale study challenges GOP claims that jobless benefits discourage work: A new Yale University study finds no evidence that the $600 in enhanced unemployment insurance benefits discourages people from working. "We find that the workers who experienced larger increases in UI generosity did not experience larger declines in employment when the benefits expansion went into effect," the study says. "Additionally, we find that workers facing larger expansions in UI benefits have returned to their previous jobs over time at similar rates as others. We find no evidence that more generous benefits disincentivized work either at the onset of the expansion or as firms looked to return to business over time." (Bloomberg Businessweek)

Coronavirus recession leads to Medicaid enrollment increase: Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program rose to 72.3 million in April, up from 71.5 million the month before and 71 million in February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said last week. That rise reverse a three-year decline, with the increase in March the first since March 2017. "Yet, the growth in participation in the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people was less than many analysts predicted," Phil Galewitz writes. "One possible factor tempering enrollment: People with concerns about catching the coronavirus avoided seeking care and figured they didn’t need the coverage." Experts expect enrollment to continue climbing this summer, with Robin Rudowitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation noting that there is typically a lag of weeks or months before people who have lost their health coverage look to enroll in Medicaid. (Kaiser Health News)

Democrats reject Medicare for All amendment to platform: Democratic delegates on Monday overwhelmingly opposed an amendment to the party’s platform supporting Medicare for All, fending off efforts by allies of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to have the party endorse a single-payer system. The platform committee also rejected other attempts to move the official Democratic position closer to single-payer, such as an expansion of Medicare to children and people over age 55. The committee-approved platform to be voted on by delegates instead supports a public insurance option. Unlike in 2016, though, it also says the party welcomes those who want Medicare for All. More than 600 of the party’s nearly 4,000 delegates have signed onto a pledge to vote against the platform if it doesn’t support Medicare for All. (Wall Street Journal)

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