U.S. Senate Republicans are once more trying the “Peanuts gambit” in seeking to block or vastly diminish President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery proposal (dubbed The American Rescue Plan).
The gambit is named for a famous feature in Charles M. Schulz’s beloved cartoon strip, in which Lucy set down a football in the holder position, only to jerk it up and send Charlie Brown sprawling as he sought to kick the ball.
The tactic was deployed to perfection during the Obama years.
The goal this year is to make Biden sprawl, or become immersed in a drawn-out mess. As of this afternoon, a group of ten Republican Senators were headed to the White House to pitch an alternative, impotent $618 billion recovery plan.
It omits the $15-an-hour minimum wage, aid to beleaguered state governments, and scales back the extension of unemployment benefits.
Republicans say they are offering up unity and bipartisanship, flattering Biden that this was the kind of deal he was able to cut during thirty-six years in the Senate. With ten Republican votes, plus the Senate’s fifty Democrats, there would be a filibuster proof Senate majority for adopting a new relief package.
So far, Biden and the Democrats aren’t going for it.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki made clear, in Monday’s White House briefing, that the meeting with Republicans is not a negotiation.
“What this meeting is not is a forum for the President to make or accept an offer,” said Psaki. “The risk is not that it is too big, this package. The risk is that it is too small. That remains (Biden’s) view.”
Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, made the case Sunday on CNN for a big recovery package to treat a pandemic that has ravaged the American economy and worsened income inequality.
“We’re in a unique crisis,” said Deese. “And the elements of this (Biden) plan really were designed and are designed to take on that crisis head on … We’re certainly open to input from anywhere where we can find a constructive idea to make this package as effective as possible. But the President is uncompromising when it comes to the speed that we need to act to address this crisis.”
The Republicans’ offer may well be a gambit designed to get skin in the game. If the past offers any indication, however, the process will get drawn out and urgency will be lost if Biden decides to try to do a deal with them.
Inevitably, we are sure to hear from Senate Republicans that the economy is recovering so rapidly that no big aid package is needed.
Joe Biden is a busy person these days, but hopefully he’s found time to read President Obama’s memoir, “A Promised Land.” After all, he’s a major character in it. Beyond that, however, in the book, President Obama fesses up to having been snookered on key legislation during the early years of his presidency.
He trusted Senaor Max Baucus, ineffectual chair of the Senate Finance Committee, to explore a health care compromise with Republicans. “We signed off on scores of changes they wanted made in Baucus’ draft bill,” he writes.
“Time’s up, Max,” Obama told the senator after months of talks.
But Baucus wanted to go on… and on… and on.
“A part of me wanted to get up, grab Baucus by the shoulders, and shake him till he came to his senses,” Obama recalls. “I decided this wouldn’t work.”
Ultimately, the Democrats had to essentially go it alone.
They suffered a repeat performance after the House passed an climate bill, with Washington’s then-Rep. Jay Inslee working to line up votes from “Rust Belt” Democrats wanting a soft landing for their smokestack industries.
In the Senate, however, environment champion Sen. John Kerry tried to negotiate with the Republican Party’s spineless Senator Lindsay Graham.
“Unless Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt are walking through that door, , buddy, he’s all we’ve got,” chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told Obama.
The result was no bill.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama rescue legislation, was a major achievement, but smaller than the administration wanted. (It helped pay for removal of two fish-destroying dams on the Elwa River, master stream of the Olympic Peninsula.) Still, Obama had to acquiesce to a bill under $800 billion “because any figure higher than that just seemed ‘too much’.”
The fact that Obama was reaching out to Maine’s Republican Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, working in a “bipartisan fashion”, was treated by much of the horse race obsessed Beltway press corps as signifying “Solomonic reason and wisdom”, Obama writes of the deal-making.
Aside from the votes of Collins, Snowe, and Pennsylvania’s then-Republcan Senator Arlen Specter (who subsequently became a Democrat) the Recovery Act passed the House and Senate on party line votes. The Great Recession was not enough to inspire bipartisanship. Nor, apparently, is the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Collins is at it again, as an architect of the inadequate $618 billion Republican relief proposal. Can Biden be lured into negotiating?
At the edges, probably yes. But any larger concession invites morass.
The President would need to return to Congress for new extensions in unemployment benefits when provisions in the Republican proposal run out.
By that time, with 2022 elections looming, it would be in Republicans’ political interests to keep the economy in a hole.
“The Republicans’ offer is insufficient,” recently designated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said over the weekend.
Under reconciliation, the Democrats need only fifty-plus-one Senate votes to pass Biden’s larger recovery package. Independent Senator Bernie Sanders told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that the Democrats’ votes are there.
Senator Rob Portman, R‑Ohio, one of the ten Republicans sponsoring the $618 billion package, argued Sunday that Biden would be going back on the healing message of his inaugural address. After a pledge to reach out across the aisle to Republicans, “then the next day landing on our desks a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 package, when only a month ago, we passed a $900 billion COVID-19 package that was entirely bipartisan,” said an offended Portman.
Words that can bring tears to your eyes — if you happen to be a crocodile.
Senate Republicans used reconciliation to ram through the massive Trump tax cut bill and tried reconciliation to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The raw exercise of power, cutting off health care to millions of Americans, was thwarted only by a thumbs-down from Senator John McCain.
The COVID-19 pandemic has just under a million Americans filing for unemployment benefits each week. The pandemic has destabilized the economy. The country is at a point, comparable to several lows in the Great Depression, where decisiveness and big-scale thinking are needed.
Joe Biden was elected in November to get grips on a crisis that was disastrously mishandled by his predecessor. The actions taken in the first few months of his presidency are sure to define Biden’s legacy.
The forty-sixth President of the United States was for decades a fixture on Capitol Hill. He is now the elected leader of a nation that is hurting.