After much advance publicity, Senate Republicans finally unveiled their “skinny stimulus” proposal today. Democratic criticisms of the bill as “emaciated” really miss the point. This piece of work is not intended to become law or even to pass the U.S. Senate controlled by its architects. Its sole purpose is to solicit support from hardcore Senate conservatives who don’t really think the federal government needs to do anything more to deal with COVID-19 or its economic consequences. The goal is to get 51 votes to give vulnerable GOP senators a gesture, however feeble, of their party’s good intentions. The inevitable Democratic votes to deny final passage to the “skinny stimulus” will be used to create the dubious impression that it’s the Donkey Party obstructing action rather than Senate Republican refuseniks who have consistently failed to back the White House’s position in the long-stalled bipartisan stimulus negotiations.
Given its entirely partisan purpose, the composition of the skinny stimulus bill isn’t surprising. The price tag, at $500 billion, is half that of the earlier HEALS Act proposal the White House and congressional Republicans unveiled last month, and even less than half of the $1.3 trillion Mark Meadows indicated Trump could accept just a couple of weeks ago (though a bit more bang for the buck is attempted via clawbacks of unspent CARES Act funds, at the risk of undercutting that initiative). But it’s basically just a collection of Republican-only proposals, as Politico reports:
The new, more narrow GOP proposal will provide $300 in increased weekly federal unemployment benefits through Dec. 27, additional money for the Paycheck Protection Program and liability protections for schools and businesses as they try to reopen, a top priority for Senate Majority- Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)….
“If anyone doubts McConnell’s true intent is anything but political, just look at the bill,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support. “
A clear example of the get-every-Republican-vote motive of the skinny stimulus is its accommodation of Ted Cruz’s proposal to add tax credits for private-school scholarships to the bill’s school funding provisions. As the Washington Post reports, other “skinny” elements include a little of this and a little of that:
Other provisions include $105 billion for schools, $16 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing, $31 billion for vaccine development and distribution, and $20 billion for farm assistance.
There’s zippo for such big Democratic priorities as state and local government assistance, funding to promote smooth administration of the November elections, and money to make sure the 2020 census doesn’t miss many tens of millions of people. But the un-seriousness of this proposal is best illustrated by the omission of the single most popular provision of the CARES Act: a second stimulus check distributing funds directly to American families.
McConnell will likely bring this silly bill to the Senate floor late this week, amid tongue-in-cheek claims that Democrats will feel terrible, terrible pressure to support it. After it’s voted down and forgotten, perhaps actual negotiations can begin again.