After some 15 laborious hours of the Senate mired in vote-a-rama, Kamala Harris on Friday cast her first tiebreaking vote, setting the stage for Democrats to forge ahead on Joe Biden’s stimulus plan.
As The New York Times recounted, Harris “arrived early in the morning to the dais… and the Senate adopted the resolution along party lines, 51-50, at about 5:30 AM.” Later, it cleared the House 219 to 209.
Chuck Schumer called it “a giant first step,” and it came one month after Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff prevailed in Georgia, handing the Senate to Democrats with the slimmest of majorities.
There was staunch opposition to raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and there were nods to limiting stimulus checks to those with lower incomes. The rest was a predictable (and deliberate) farce. A choreographed sniping session. Politics for politics’ sake. Is a spectacle a “spectacle” if no one watches? You should ask your senators.
Democrats still plan to press ahead on the minimum wage hike. It’s just not totally clear what the path forward is. Bernie Sanders may angle to get it implemented in steps over a period of years.
It’s likely that Republicans will now accuse Biden of abandoning pretensions to bipartisanship just weeks into his presidency. And yet, it’s clear enough that the GOP has no appetite for real “compromise.” While this week’s meeting between Biden and 10 GOP senators was lauded by the latter as cordial and constructive, it’s hard to describe their offer to the White House ($618 billion) as a serious proposal. It’s not even a matter of substance (it never is). The price tags are too far apart. The optics would be bad for Biden. And so would the press.
After years spent stymied by Mitch McConnell, Democrats aren’t keen to squander an early opportunity to capitalize on unified government — especially considering the circumstances. If you want to justify spending money, a vicious pandemic that’s killed more Americans than combat deaths in World War II (figure below) is about as solid a rationale for a blank check as you could possibly conjure. If you’re the GOP, “everybody’s already dead now,” isn’t an excuse that’s likely to play well with the public when it comes to being a Grinch about the purse strings.
“We now come to the end of the debate that has gone on for over 14 hours,” Sanders said, towards the close of the proceedings. “Our country faces more crises, more pain, more anxiety than any time since the Great Depression,” he added, before imploring his colleagues: “We have the opportunity to give hope to the American people and restore faith in our government by telling them that we understand the pain they’re experiencing and are going to do something very significant about it.”
For his part, Schumer alluded to the widely accepted notion that the fiscal impulse following the financial crisis was insufficient and likely contributed to the lackluster character of the recovery. “We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past,” Schumer said. “We cannot do too little.”
Remember: “Doing too little” on the fiscal side almost invariably leads to “doing too much” on the monetary side. If lawmakers revert to outdated thinking about debt and deficits in a bid to subjugate the economic fate of millions to imaginary “lines in the sand” on the federal budget, the result will be a prolongation of monetary accommodation and everything that goes with it, including and especially financial asset price inflation and inequality (figure below).
In any event, the stimulus proposal will now brave the reconciliation process. It’s unclear (and will remain so for weeks) what the final product will look like, but it should generally resemble Biden’s original plan.
There’s leeway around the stimulus checks, where “leeway” means the potential to lower the income threshold or otherwise tweak the phase-out parameters to ensure the money gets to people who actually need it, as opposed to people who might be inclined to spend it on… oh, I don’t know, shares of GameStop. Or something.