coronavirus stimulus

Does Biden’s Election Help or Hurt Prospects for a Stimulus Deal?

It could be a dark winter without congressional action. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After months of fruitless negotiations to get a fresh infusion of stimulus for an economy hamstrung by COVID-19 prior to the 2020 elections, perhaps the chief political impetus for deal-making has passed. But the real-life need for action is growing rapidly given the renewed power of the pandemic and its likely economic fallout. And, if anything, the politics have become even more complicated, as Axios reports:

Biden spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday about the need to pass a stimulus bill during the lame-duck session of Congress. But the reality is that the Republican Senate and the Democratic House remain very far apart on priorities.

The Senate Republican conference is pushing for a highly-targeted bill, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi maintains she won’t compromise on anything smaller than $2.2 trillion. “That snag that hung us up for months is still there,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said earlier this week …

There’s been a change in top negotiators, with the more conciliatory Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin replaced by McConnell.

Steven Mnuchin’s boss is a bit too focused on denying his defeat to countenance any deal-making with Democrats, and if and when Trump does concede, it’s not likely he will suddenly became statesmanlike. And Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republicans are showing every sign of returning to the hard-core fiscal-hawk obstructionism they displayed during the Obama presidency.

In theory, the climate for stimulus legislation should improve when Biden takes office in January, assuming the country hasn’t gone to hell in a handbasket by then. But a lot depends on what happens in the two January 5 runoffs in Georgia, where control of the Senate will be determined. If Republicans win at least one of those two contests, McConnell will be back in business as majority leader, and, as I noted before the election, Democrats won’t have a way around him to enact a big stimulus package:

In this scenario, McConnell would be a lot more than an obstructionist: Both filibuster reform and the deployment of budget reconciliation to get a stimulus package, or any other Biden-administration legislation, through the Senate would be off the table. Assuming there are any Republicans amenable to compromise left in Mitch’s conference (a likely suspect is Lisa Murkowski, who is up for reelection in 2022 and has been half excommunicated from the GOP by Trump), Democrats would try to pick them off, though again, it’s hard to see how they could get to the 60 votes they’d need if the filibuster is still available and reconciliation isn’t.

On the other side of the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi lost a few seats and a lot of prestige as Republicans picked up at least eight net House seats (and probably a few more when all the races are called). She may be under renewed pressure from restive centrist Democrats to take what she can get from Republicans in a stimulus deal. But, again, with Mnuchin on the sidelines and McConnell keeping his powder dry until the Georgia runoffs, it’s not likely Pelosi will have anything palatable to accept.

If, of course, COVID-19 trend lines go really crazy, the economy goes into total lockdown, and markets tank, even McConnell might come around to a robust stimulus effort. But that’s only if he chooses to be responsible. From a purely partisan point of view, anything that happens once Joe Biden takes office is no skin off his back. And after January 20, it will be Joe Biden rather than Donald Trump who can take credit for a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks going out.

How Biden’s Election Affects Prospects for Stimulus Deal