Here We Go: Will Senate Democrats Filibuster COVID Relief -- Again?

Posted: Sep 09, 2020 10:25 AM
Here We Go: Will Senate Democrats Filibuster COVID Relief -- Again?

Source: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

One of the glaring weaknesses in congressional Republicans' posture on additional COVID-19 relief has been their inability to demonstrate majority support for any bill of their own. Sure, it's fair game to attack the Democrats' totally unserious legislation or to argue that Democratic leadership was yet again refusing to negotiate in good faith. But for weeks on end, the only real alternatives were the ludicrously expensive House-passed Christmas tree of left-wing poison pills and unrelated spending and, frankly, nothing, considering Republicans' inability to demonstrate majority support for the HEALS Act. But with pressure mounting on Senate GOP leaders from many of their members -- especially those facing re-election battles -- to bring up a vote on an actual plan, rumors started to percolate that upper chamber Republicans were getting close to offering legislation that could attract simple majority support. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that such a vote is forthcoming. Knowing McConnell, he wouldn't have made this commitment unless he was confident of having the votes:

Senate Republicans have been trying for months to deliver more bipartisan relief to the American people. In July, we proposed another sweeping package totaling more than $1 trillion. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer said no. In August, we proposed narrowing discussions to the most urgent and bipartisan subjects. They blocked that too. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer said a targeted deal on jobless benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program would be ‘piecemeal,’ but then Speaker Pelosi came rushing back to pass the most piecemeal bill imaginable: Postal Service legislation that completely ignored the health, economic, and education crises facing families...

Today, the Senate Republican majority is introducing a new targeted proposal, focused on some of the very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues. It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation. I will be moving immediately today to set up a floor vote as soon as this week. Last month, more than 100 House Democrats publicly asked Speaker Pelosi to stop stonewalling and let them vote on targeted COVID-19 relief. She ignored them, just like her piecemeal postal legislation ignored American families. I will make sure every Senate Democrat who has said they’d like to reach an agreement gets the opportunity to walk the walk.

Republicans are circulating some of the "dissension in the ranks" quotes. McConnell mentions. The bill's text is here. And here is McConnell's floor speech:

Republicans are making yet another overture. Today we are releasing a targeted proposal that focuses on several of the most urgent aspects of this crisis. Issues where bipartisanship should be especially possible. I’m talking about policies like extending the additional federal unemployment benefit for jobless workers. Providing a second round of the job-saving Paycheck Protection Program for the hardest-hit small businesses, to prevent layoffs. Sending more than $100 billion to help K-12 schools and universities re-open safely and educate our kids. Dedicating billions more for testing, contact tracing, treatments, and vaccines. On-shoring manufacturing capacity for critical medical supplies and rebuilding our National Stockpile. Giving all kinds of families more choice and flexibility to navigate education and childcare during this crisis. Providing legal protections for schools, churches, charities, nonprofits, and employers to re-open. Providing more help for the postal service. Our proposal would do all this and more. Now, here’s what our bill is not. It is not a sweeping multi-trillion-dollar plan to rebuild the entire country in Republicans’ image. It does not even contain every single relief policy that Republicans ourselves think would help in the short term.

As McConnell outlines, the GOP bill would redirect tens of billions in unspent funds allocated in the CARES Act, provide liability limitations for businesses and healthcare workers who act in good faith, extend additional $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits, establish a second round of PPP loans and grants to help keep businesses afloat, and offer parents flexibility to make educational and childcare choices for their families. The legislation also provides contingent assistance to the Postal Service (which already has the necessary funding to operate well into 2021), funds "pandemic preparation and strategic stockpiles," including addressing supply chain issues, expands a charitable giving tax deduction, and helps ensure that the US is less dependent on China and other hostile countries for crucial minerals. Finally, the Republican bill would spend billions on safety measures to facilitate the safe reopening of schools, billions on contact tracing, and billions "for vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic development; vaccine distribution; the Strategic National Stockpile and grants for the establishment of state stockpiles."

As McConnell said in his statement excerpted above, this package does not entail everything that Senate Republicans would like to see passed. It's also a far cry from the indefensible $3.4 trillion bill Democrats moved out of the House. But despite immediate partisan bellyaching about "poison pills" from Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, it's a completely reasonable place to start, and it's obviously better than the paralysis of the current status quo. If Democrats would like to amend or alter this pared-down, targeted proposal, they should make that case. The question now becomes whether Schumer & Co. will once again filibuster a bill that they contend doesn't go far enough. They did so on police reform, a consensus concern that has now stalled, entirely due to their obstruction. Will they play the same game on pandemic relief? I'm sure there are some Senate Democrats who are anxious about the optics of going down that road, but that didn't stop them last time. It would also be quite rich to see the party that is talking openly of eliminating the legislative filibuster if they gain power using that tool (which the last Democratic president recently framed as racist, despite his previous, enthusiastic participation) to block police reform and Coronavirus relief.

I'll leave you with Nancy "Blowout" Pelosi laughably claiming that her party intends to take the "high road" in order to win the election. This is the same woman who just recently accused GOP Senators, including Tim Scott, of being complicit in the murder of George Floyd, stated that Republicans are treasonous "enemies of the state," and savaged a small business for blowing the whistle on her brazen COVID hypocrisy. She is the embodiment of low road politics -- a distinction she shares with the president, to whom she feels a misplaced and increasingly delusional sense of superiority. Parting thought: If Democrats decide they'd prefer to do nothing serious on COVID, McConnell has teed up a slate of new judicial confirmation votes: