It’s the holidays, it’s been a truly miserable year, overwhelming numbers of Americans are missing their families, those hit hardest by the pandemic and collapse of the economy are still waiting for relief from the government of one of the richest nations in the world, and last night, in front of a festive, ornament-dotted Christmas mantle, the president offered a giant, gift-wrapped box of false hope.
“The $900 billion package provides hardworking taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments, and not enough money is given to small businesses,” President Trump declared. “I’m asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2000 — $4000 for a couple.”
He’s right: $600 is a pathetic pittance to throw at people who have lost jobs, businesses, and loved ones as the virus has continued to ravage communities in every state, totally uncontained, for three quarters of a year. For months now, Democrats have been calling for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks — the House even passed a bill that would have sent them out in July, but Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate refused to take up the legislation.
It’s wonderful that the president has finally torn his attention away from botching a coup long enough to recognize that Americans need relief — Welcome! — but his demand doesn’t mean much at this point, coming not only after months of negotiations, but after the bill has already passed both chambers of Congress. (Though, to be fair to Trump, he apparently did harbor earlier concerns about the size of the $600 checks, but was reportedly talked out of raising those concerns by his own “frantic aides” back when he might actually have had an impact on relief negotiations.)
So, what happens now? Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have written an amendment that would change the figure in the bill from $600 to $2000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer both expressed their support, with Pelosi promising to bring the amendment to the floor this week. Some Republicans have even jumped on board — Lindsey Graham tweeted late last night, ”The American people are hurting and deserve relief. I know there is much bipartisan support for this idea. Let’s go further.”
This all sounds great, right? Like a Christmas miracle, Democrats and Republicans from both ends of the political spectrum are setting their differences aside and coming together to do a solid for their fellow Americans. Here’s the catch: Speaker Pelosi has promised to bring the bill to the floor by unanimous consent, meaning that any one of the House’s 435 members can object and the amendment would be dead in the water. And some Republican undoubtedly will object, citing, very solemnly, his concerns about the national debt. (For a preview of what’s in store, check out Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s speech just a few days ago blocking his colleague Josh Hawley’s motion for $1,200 stimulus checks.)
Making a Republican block help for citizens is great politics for Democrats: a big, technicolor demonstration of Republican indifference to the average American’s struggles, just a few weeks ahead of a major election that will determine control of the Senate. Democrats could not ask for a more vivid and flattering contrast at such a critical moment.
But the unanimous consent vote isn’t a serious attempt to deliver aid to those who need it. That would mean calling members back to Washington for a full vote that, as Democrats control the House, would actually pass. Sure, the legislation would almost certainly still die in the Senate, but House Democrats would at least have done all they could.
What’s happening instead is political theater, and a particularly cruel version of it — like a giant Christmas prank being played on any poor, un-jaded soul feeling some stirring of hope that their elected leaders actually mean what they’re saying, and are really, truly trying to get them some help. The tell that it was all a big joke came from Trump himself, who ended his video with a winking threat to remain in the White House if his demands aren’t met. “Send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a covid relief package — and maybe that administration will be me,” he said.