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Another Day of COVID, Another Failed Stimulus, Another Thousand Deaths

“Go for much higher numbers, Republicans” was the squeal of retreat Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been waiting for.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell approaches the microphones to speak to members of the media at the Hart Senate Office Building on September 9, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

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Another COVID day of death and dismay, another day of Republican indifference, greed and spite.

Democrats are ‘heartless,’” Donald Trump tweeted yesterday during his daily mid-morning rant, repeating his habit of confessing to his own sins each time he lobs an accusation at Democrats. “They don’t want to give STIMULUS PAYMENTS to people who desperately need the money, and whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China.”

“… whose fault it was NOT that the plague came in from China.” Mmm, yes, President racist MAGA Yoda he is, making sense he is not, yes… and why put ‘heartless’ in quotes, as if he’s chucking up air quotes like Dr. Evil? We will never know, but the hot part came with the last line: “Go for the much higher numbers, Republicans, it all comes back to the USA anyway (one way or another!).”

“Go for much higher numbers, Republicans” was a call for Trump’s congressional allies to agree to put more money into the stimulus package, and it was the squeal of retreat Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been waiting for.

Speaker Pelosi’s stimulus “negotiations” with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell devolved into little more than performative farce before collapsing altogether weeks ago. House Democrats have an aid bill passed and ready to go, but the GOP in the White House and Senate are so belligerently fractured they can scarcely agree on whether to get blueberries with the pancakes.

Trump’s push to force Senate Republicans into accepting a higher price tag for the stimulus bill was followed up later that afternoon through more standard press channels with an unmistakable test balloon: A proffered plan by the center-right Trojan horse Problem Solvers Coalition would basically lop the Democrats’ proposal in half, screwing pretty much everyone seeking aid while accomplishing the only important part: Giving Republicans running for re-election a rag they could wave before the doom of November descends. “See, we did something, vote me!”

Pelosi has stout political reasons to be open to this half-a-loaf proposal. Like their GOP counterparts, those vulnerable red-state House Democrats the Speaker has so assiduously protected also need something to show the folks back home, lest they lose their seats — and the House majority — to a riptide of “Radical Nancy!” nonsense. Plus, and not for nothing, this tussle has been going on for weeks in the teeth of a ruinous pandemic. When folks need shoes and food, something beats nothing every time.

“We are encouraged that after months of the Senate Republicans insisting on shortchanging the massive needs of the American people, President Trump is now calling on Republicans to ‘go for the much higher numbers’ in the next coronavirus relief package,” the Speaker and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday in a joint statement. “We look forward to hearing from the President’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway.”

The bonhomie lasted just long enough for the professional wreckers on the far right of Congress to clear their throats and step to a camera. Senate Majority Whip John Thune set the tone by using big words that all came down to “No”: “If the number gets too high, anything that got passed in the Senate will be passed mostly with Democrat votes and a handful of Republicans so it’s going to have to stay within a realistic range if we want to maximize, optimize the number of Republican senators that will vote for it.”

Realistic maximize optimize nope. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy matched Thune’s gloomy assessment with 90 percent fewer words: “We’d have to see what’s in it, but I think it’s difficult.”

As for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, well, he was busy: “As Covid-19 relief for jobless and hungry Americans, collapsing small businesses, and state and local governments languishes in the Senate GOP’s legislative graveyard, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday further advanced his years-long project of dragging U.S. federal courts to the right by ramming through three more of President Donald Trump’s lifetime judicial nominees and teed up votes on several others.”

With an election that will decide the immediate fate of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives looming just 47 tiny days away, fury at vicious Republican intransigence has begun to give way to something close to horrified awe. Are these people so dug into their clotted ideological trenches that 200,000 deaths and tens of million unemployed still won’t move them? Politicians used to be known for having at least a semblance of enlightened election year self-interest, yet even that appears to have fallen to dust.

“What in the world is Trump thinking?” asks Derek Thompson for The Atlantic. “I don’t ask the question rhetorically. I desperately want to know, as I cannot imagine why an incumbent president, without any ideological commitment to government restraint, facing imminent judgment over the struggling economy, would lose interest in stimulating it.”

Nobody can answer that with any degree of certainty, but I can hazard a few guesses: Trump does not care, understand, or care to understand the dire circumstances arrayed before him. Congressional Republicans like McCarthy and Thune enjoy safe seats, and so lose nothing by standing tall for self-destructive right-wing economic theory.

And Mitch? He has gotten his portion of the Devil’s bargain he struck with the monster in the Oval. The young, far-right judges McConnell has appointed to the federal bench will defend the standing of entrenched wealth and white power for generations to come.

All the while, the people suffer. It makes you wonder just how long this perilous neglect can last before the bearings finally freeze, and this whole machinery flies apart in a shrapnel storm that could tear the country to bits.

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