Donald Trump seems determined to maintain to the end of his presidency a reputation for the kind of disruptive conduct that has probably made his congressional allies wild with fear all along. As Congress engaged in tense pre-Xmas negotiations over an omnibus appropriations bill and a COVID-19 stimulus package, the president’s staff reportedly had to talk him out of blowing up the talks with a sudden demand for a much larger stimulus check than anyone in Congress has been talking about lately, according to the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein:
On a phone call Thursday afternoon, Trump told allies that he believes stimulus payments in the next relief package should be “at least” $1,200 per person and possibly as big as $2,000 per person, the officials said. Congressional leadership is preparing a stimulus package that would provide checks of $600 per person.
Trump was in the middle of formally drafting his demand for the larger payments when White House officials told him that doing so could imperil delicate negotiations over the economic relief package, the officials said. Congressional Republicans have insisted that the relief bill remain less than $1 trillion, and it’s currently designed to cost around $900 billion. Larger stimulus checks could push the package’s total over $1 trillion.
The grand irony here is that the artificial $1 trillion cap that has taken a big stimulus check off the table has mostly been the work of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, particularly Senate conservatives, many of whom don’t really want any stimulus legislation at all as they prepare to resume the fiscal-hawk position they abandoned throughout the Trump presidency. There is one conspicuous exception: “Conservative populist” Josh Hawley of Missouri has joined with Bernie Sanders in pressing for a $1,200 stimulus check, even threatening to hold up a stopgap spending measure needed to avoid a government shutdown to advance that proposal. But for the most part, hard-core Trump supporters in Congress (most conspicuously Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul) have been very bearish about spending money to help regular people struggling with the pandemic or related economic problems.
Truth is, Trump has always been a fan of the long-awaited “second check,” and you can probably credit the inclusion of a $600 direct payment in the compromise being worked on right now to a combination of support from the administration (the smaller check was most recently proposed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin) and from progressive Democrats (notably Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). In practical terms, if Republicans did agree to a bigger check, it would likely come at the expense of other provisions aimed at helping those most in need, such as extended and supplemented unemployment insurance (which has already been reduced to make “room” for a $600 check).
Trump likely hasn’t paid much attention to such dynamics. And he’s not the only disrupter of the delicate negotiations: Democrats are livid at Republican senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania over his adamant efforts to restrict Federal Reserve Board lending authority as part of the stimulus bill, which is apparently aimed at reducing the kind of stimulus the Biden administration could deploy next year. But ultimately whatever Congress works out will have to secure the signature of the president we have right now, and no one can be confident he won’t set off a few more explosions before he is forced to leave office.