On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tossed a purely partisan grenade into the Senate and utterly destroyed a bipartisan legislative package intended to provide desperately needed economic relief to the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Both Republican and Democratic senators had spent several days negotiating a nearly $2 trillion package that would provide financial assistance to workers, small businesses, large corporations and certain industries hit particularly hard by the economic shutdown in response to the public health crisis.
Then Pelosi showed up and declared the package not good enough while touting a number of demands that, at best, were only tangentially related to the coronavirus issue, which prompted Senate Democrats to essentially scuttle the whole thing on Sunday afternoon.
In retrospect, however, we all should have seen this coming, based on a rather telling comment days earlier from one of the California Democrat’s top allies in the House.
The Hill reported that, on Thursday, House Democrats held a conference call to discuss both the efforts in the Senate to construct a coronavirus fiscal relief package as well as ideas for a package of their own for the same alleged purpose.
Based on what was reportedly discussed during that call, however, it was clear that House Democrats viewed the current moment as an opportunity worth seizing to try and push through some of their preferred policies. Some of those policies had little or no bearing whatsoever on providing economic relief to laid-off workers, small businesses on the brink of closure, or large corporations struggling to avoid bankruptcy.
In fact, it was House Majority Whip James Clyburn, third in line among House Democratic leadership, who gave the whole game away with one single comment.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” the South Carolina Democrat reportedly told his fellow Democratic lawmakers during the conference call.
That remark from Clyburn bears a strong resemblance to an infamous quote attributed to former President Barack Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who once quipped in 2008, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
In other words, exploiting the opportunity presented by a crisis — when the political opposition is certainly more inclined to compromise in order to address an emergency — to press forward with certain agenda items and policy prescriptions that otherwise would be non-starters or be bogged down by debate.
Getting back to Clyburn’s comment and the report from The Hill, a number of proposals put forward by Democrats in that conference call were mentioned. Some were related to providing economic relief amid the growing financial crisis, while others were merely priority items on the Democratic wish list that had nothing to do with dealing with a global pandemic or saving the nation’s economy from an impending depression.
Clyburn himself suggested that the current crisis would be a great time to legislatively provide for 100 percent broadband internet coverage for the entirety of the United States. He used the fact that schools across the nation are currently shut down for weeks, if not months, and students were being forced to continue their schooling online from home as the reasoning behind his suggestion.
Providing broadband coverage and reliable internet access to everyone across the nation is something worthy of consideration — but is it really a crucial item that must be included in an emergency funding bill intended to keep the nation’s economy afloat until the current public health crisis subsides?
Other provisions mentioned by other Democrats in the conference call included things like infrastructure spending, expanding Social Security benefits, election security issues, environmental concerns, limits or requirements attached to any “bailouts” of large corporations, unionized labor demands, and other things that weren’t directly related to immediate economic stimulus.
Around the same time as the conference call, no doubt aware of what his Democratic colleagues were intending to do, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had flatly warned, “Anything that doesn’t address that pandemic, it seems to me, should not be considered.”
For a few days, it seemed like McConnell’s Democratic colleagues took the hint and engaged in reportedly productive negotiations that appeared to be on the verge of success on Sunday — until Pelosi showed up and jammed a partisan wrench into the delicate workings of the deal.
Now, as potentially millions of workers are facing unemployment, tens of thousands of small and large businesses are on the brink, and the markets are in free-fall, Congress is at an utter standstill because Democrats like Clyburn and Pelosi wanted to take advantage of the “opportunity” provided by coronavirus to push their partisan agenda on the American people.