The dirty little secret of the gridlocked coronavirus stimulus negotiations is that Senate Republicans are deeply divided between those who desperately want to vote “yes” for some kind of relief (particularly vulnerable senators up for reelection this year) and those who think holding the line on deficits and debt is more important than any more of this liberal pandering to people who are sick or have lost their jobs, much less to state and local governments on the brink of big program cuts and layoffs. That’s one reason Democrats, who have been impressively united behind the House-passed HEROES Act, have so much leverage: the White House and Senate Republican leaders know they’ll need their votes to get anything out of the Senate.
So as a purely symbolic means of giving their more vulnerable senators a vote while keeping the fiscal hawks onboard, Mitch McConnell and his troops are backtracking from their own HEALS Act — the trillion-dollar proposal they unveiled but did not vote on in late July — and the White House’s indication that Trump would accept a package with $1.3 trillion in aid. Instead, when the Senate formally returns from recess next week, McConnell hopes to vote on a “skinny stimulus” measure that is purely and simply an effort to thread the needle within the Republican conference, as the Hill reports:
The GOP leader told fellow Senate Republicans during a conference call Tuesday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows that senators in tough races want to vote on a rescue package ASAP, according to a person familiar with the call.
“McConnell wants it. McConnell said today is that every member who’s up [for reelection] who has any hint of vulnerability wants a bill that gets 51 votes,” the source said on Tuesday …
Senate Republicans see a vote on a smaller relief bill as a chance to go on offense while helping vulnerable Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who are hoping to deliver for constituents heading into the final stretch of the fall campaign.
The price tag on this “skinny stimulus” proposal will apparently range between $500 billion and $700 billion for a fairly narrow range of needs:
The measure would provide money to help colleges and schools resume classes, $190 billion for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses, assistance for unemployed workers, expanded COVID-19 testing and child care assistance, according to GOP sources.
It will not include a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, the provision in the HEALS Act that seems to have spurred the revolt from the right. Republicans are claiming Senate passage of the “skinny stimulus” will put pressure on vulnerable House Democrats to beg Nancy Pelosi to offer more concessions in future negotiations. But it’s much easier politically for Democrats in both houses to make the absence of the wildly popular stimulus checks an excuse for opposing this proposal.
What’s a bit pathetic is that McConnell doesn’t even have the votes yet to pass this emaciated stimulus proposal:
The bill now being contemplated, however, doesn’t yet appear to have the 51 Republican votes it needs to be hailed a symbolic victory.
“It depends entirely on whether we get to 51,” the aide said about the prospect of McConnell putting a relief bill up for a vote as soon as next week.
A few votes short of one-chamber passage of a purely symbolic proposal on a party-line vote. You can argue it would be one tiny step back down the long road to a bipartisan deal, like the one that produced the CARES Act, but it’s just as easy to imagine the Senate conservatives concluding it’s the last thing Republicans need to do this year. Absolutely no one should get excited about it.