US equities hit records Monday, as bemused market participants pondered a convoluted situation in Washington, where Democrats moved on Donald Trump’s demand that $600 direct payments authorized under the latest virus relief package be more than tripled to $2,000.
Trump, who finally signed the bill on Sunday evening, put Republicans in a tough spot. The GOP has no qualms about abandoning pretensions to fiscal rectitude when it comes to championing supply-side measures with no hope of ever paying for themselves (e.g., the tax cuts), but blunt-force, demand-side stimulus is another matter. Although there was bipartisan support for more direct payments, Trump’s “go big or go to hell” message to his own party was greeted with consternation among some lawmakers.
The bid to upsize the checks was expected to face an uphill battle, but it passed in the House 275-134. Senate Republicans not in favor will now be forced to go on the record both against Trump and against larger checks for voters. That is a terribly vexing predicament, and it comes just days before the crucial Georgia runoffs.
A disjointed statement from the White House on Sunday evening suggested the Senate might try to roll up the larger checks with the Section 230 issue and some kind of token measure that pays lip service to Trump’s voter fraud claims. If that’s the plan, Mitch McConnell surely knows it’s doomed. He has himself counseled GOP senators to avoid getting drawn into Trump’s election fight, and the president’s veto of the defense bill pending a 230 repeal rankled lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. An effort to somehow “trade” $2,000 checks for a slapdash legislative broadside against social media’s liability shield and a review of the election the Supreme Court failed to grant, seems like a ludicrous non-starter.
“McConnell hasn’t said whether the Senate would take up the House bill, attempt to vote on a different measure that would also increase direct payments or simply ignore the issue,” Bloomberg wrote Monday evening, adding that Chuck Schumer is likely to seek unanimous consent to pass the House bill on Tuesday, but will surely fail.
This is all made immeasurably worse by cringeworthy soundbites from some of America’s elected representatives. Controversial Alabama Republican Mo Brooks, for example, told Fox that he doesn’t “think people understand what happens when a central government goes bankrupt.” “It’s not pretty,” he said. “It’s dangerous.”
Brooks, a staunch Trump ally who’s leading a doomed effort to dispute the Electoral College results, is feeding nonsense to the public. That’s just par for the course, but it’s worth reiterating that the US government cannot go “bankrupt.” Frankly, that kind of soundbite should be subject to the same kinds of misinformation labels on social media that other types of baseless claims receive. It’s simply not true, and it perpetuates a harmful myth about government finance in advanced, currency-issuing economies. That, in turn, works to the detriment of the polity and undermines the collective well-being. It’s like yelling “fire” the proverbial crowded theater. To quote Brooks, “it’s dangerous.”
In any case, Brooks’s “bankrupt” remark speaks to how truly absurd the situation is inside the Beltway. A lawmaker who, by his own proud admission, is leading the charge to overturn a US presidential election, publicly criticized sending larger stimulus checks to voters, despite the insistence of the very same president whose long-shot bid to stay in power Brooks is spearheading.
Please take a moment to wrap your head around that, because it’s wild.
Speaking of wild, Louie Gohmert, along with nearly a dozen Arizona residents, sued Mike Pence to grant him the authority to toss out Electoral College votes for Biden next month. Pence, Gohmert said, can simply choose which set of electoral votes to count, even as symbolic ballots for Trump don’t, in fact, have any legal standing.
“Vice President Pence determines which slate of electors’ votes count, or neither, for that state,” the lawsuit insists.
“Plaintiff Louie Gohmert is a duly elected member of the United States House of Representatives [and] each of the following Plaintiffs is a resident of Arizona, a registered Arizona voter and a Republican Party Presidential Elector on behalf of the State of Arizona, who voted their competing slate for President and Vice President on December 14, 2020,” the suit reads. “The Defendant is Vice President Michael R. Pence named in his official capacity as the Vice President of the United States.”
I try to find humor both for myself and for readers amid what are otherwise trying times. If you can’t laugh at anything in the above, then I’m afraid you may have recently expired.
On a more serious note, Politico wrote that while “the lawsuit itself is unlikely to gain legal traction, it does put Pence in the position of having to either contest the suit – putting him on the opposite side of Trump and his GOP defenders – or support it and lay bare the intention to subvert the will [of] voters in the 2020 election.”
Rounding out Monday’s news flow were reports that David Perdue called Trump on Christmas Day to effectively beg the president to sign the stimulus bill lest the delay should end up costing him and Kelly Loeffler the Georgia runoffs.
Perdue, who, as of Monday afternoon, hadn’t publicly taken a position on Trump’s efforts to increase the size of the stimulus checks, made two other calls over the holiday in an effort to reason with Trump: One to Larry Kudlow and one to Ivanka.