The Finance 202: ‘Really dumb politics.’ Some Republicans mystified by


“It’s crazy,” says Tony Fratto, a Treasury and White House official in the Bush administration who is now a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies. “Except for a handful from the neo-austerity caucus among Senate Republicans, everybody else would see the boost from it, and they would get credit for helping people in the middle of a crisis. It’s bad economics but also just really dumb politics.

Talks between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) toward a stimulus package continue crawling forward. But the effort is largely academic at this point, given the wall of opposition it faces from GOP lawmakers. 

Some Senate Republicans are openly worried about the price tag of a rescue package. But other GOP senators are concerned about the lack of assistance to Americans during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. 

More than 34 million Americans are struggling to meet basic expenses. A temporary boost to unemployment benefits expired weeks ago, as did moratoriums on evictions and utility shutoffs, prompting Federal Reserve officials to warn Congress needs to approve more stimulus to save the recovery. New weekly jobless claims out this morning beat expectations by dropping to 787,000 — but that marks the 31st straight week the figure has come in above its previous one-week record of 695,000 set back in 1982.

“Waiting until after the election to reach an agreement on the next covid-19 relief package is a huge mistake,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), locked in a tough reelection fight, said earlier this month. 

And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) indicated he would be willing to accept a package on the scale of what Mnuchin and Pelosi are negotiating to ensure the economy gets more support now:

Trump has said he wants a bigger package than either party is proposing — perhaps wise to the political implications of leaving millions without a financial lifeline during a worsening pandemic. But aside from the occasional tweet, he has largely washed his hands of the stimulus negotiations, neither seeking to build public support during campaign rallies nor applying direct pressure to senators.

And on Wednesday, Trump appeared to throw in the towel, just after a Pelosi spokesman said she was close to reaching agreement with Mnuchin: 

McConnell, far from rallying his troops to the Trump administration’s cause, drove home the futility of the ongoing negotiations this week when he revealed he has warned the White House against cutting a deal with Pelosi.

What’s clear now is that roughly three-quarters of Senate Republicans oppose a big deal.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) put Senate GOP antipathy to a deal costing between $1.8 trillion and $2 trillion in stark terms. “The dimensions of what they’re talking about today, I don’t think there are 13 Republicans for it. That’s my assessment based on the math,” Thune said Wednesday, Paul Kane reports

Without that bare minimum, even a deal that draws support…

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