On Wednesday evening, the Senate finally passed a bipartisan coronavirus stimulus bill, after Democrats held it up for days to push their pet projects as millions of Americans lost their jobs waiting for relief. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said “history will not be kind” to Democrats for this delay, and history should not be kind to the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, either.
The Senate bill was drafted after Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had worked out numerous compromises to rush the essential relief legislation.
Yet on Sunday, Senate Democrats blocked the bill, complaining about the $500 billion to businesses directly hit by the social distancing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Democrats derided this essential part of the compromise bill as a “corporate slush fund.” On Monday, Senate Democrats blocked the bill again, and House Democrats presented Pelosi’s version, a bill jam-packed with pet projects like a slate of liberal election “reforms,” a $15/hour minimum wage, Green New Deal standards forcing airlines to report the carbon emissions for each flight, collective bargaining for unions, and more.
Amid this partisan wrangling, Biden released a video condemning Trump and McConnell for putting a “corporate bailout ahead of millions of families,” echoing the arguments Pelosi and others used for their obstruction.
“President Trump and Mitch McConnell are trying to put a corporate bailout ahead of millions of families. You know, it’s families. It’s simply wrong. We should be focusing on families, but the White House and the United States Senate Republicans have proposed a $500 billion slush-fund for corporations,” Biden says in the video. “Republicans refused to increase social security at the same time, to forgive student loans, to take the necessary steps to stop evictions, ensure food and nutrition for vulnerable families.”
Joe Biden called on McConnell to hold a vote on Democratic priorities, rather than voting on the compromise bill that had been worked out ahead of time. He suggested the compromise bill would not help small businesses, workers, and communities — even though it includes cash pay-outs to most Americans, an increase in unemployment benefits, and more.
“Senator McConnell should immediately allow a bipartisan vote on aggressive measures to help small businesses, workers, communities,” Biden said. “They need help. They shouldn’t have to pay for a corporate bailout before they get the help they need. They need the help, now.”
President Trump and Mitch McConnell are trying to put a corporate bailout ahead of families. It's simply wrong. We need to be focused on helping hardworking Americans, communities, and small businesses — not handing big corporations a blank check. pic.twitter.com/tMBZm26h3y
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 23, 2020
In other words, at the height of Pelosi’s obstruction, Joe Biden joined in the game. This obstruction came days after House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told lawmakers last Thursday, “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” echoing former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who notoriously said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Democrats aimed to milk that opportunity, placing their political Christmas wish-list items ahead of the millions of Americans who lost their jobs in the last week. Republicans rightly excoriated Democrats for gambling with American lives in this way.
“We just watched in the last week 3.28 million people laid off,” McCarthy declared on the House floor on Thursday. “And yet for days, Democrats stalled this bill. How many people were laid off as the Democrats fought to change the election law or implement the Green New Deal?! How many parents lost sleep wondering how they’re going to make the payments for the next month?! How many small businesses sat around the kitchen table and had to make that decision they never had to before about laying their employees off — [employees] that are like family?”
Pelosi had claimed that her obstruction was a “jiu-jitsu” to change the bill. McCarthy called this claim an “outright lie. The fundamental portions of this bill have not changed since Sunday. Four months for unemployment was already decided on Sunday. The grants to keep employees hired on small business was already decided on Sunday.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) slammed the that the Democrats’ bill for “changing the emissions standards on airplanes. Mr. President, what the hell do the emissions standards on airplanes have to do with thousands of people dying and millions of people out of work in the coronavirus epidemic?!”
“Don’t treat this bill like a partisan Christmas list,” Cruz added. He noted that he’d love to abolish the IRS, but he isn’t submitting amendments to every spending bill to get his pet project in there.
Yesterday Senate Democrats didn’t show up to work.
They didn’t show up as healthcare heroes risked their lives to save others.
They didn’t show up as millions of workers at home wondered if they will even have a job to go back to.
Let’s hope they show up today. pic.twitter.com/SV0p1JS8GW
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) March 24, 2020
Republicans were far from alone in slamming the Democrats’ shenanigans. Saikat Chakrabarti, former chief of staff to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the principal architect of the Green New Deal, said, “I helped write the #GreenNewDeal and I think this is ridiculous. The tiny little emissions standard increase doesn’t even do anything meaningful to stave off climate change and gives the [Republicans] leverage to get rid of real help for working people. Solve the problem at hand.”
Some former Obama administration officials excoriated Pelosi and her allies for smuggling in non-pandemic-related provisions during the coronavirus crisis.
“Have we learned nothing?” asked Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist who advised then-Vice President Joe Biden in the White House during the 2009 stimulus debate. In comments to Politico, Bernstein recalled that Democrats used the 2009 stimulus to smuggle in all sorts of Christmas wish-list items, and they paid dearly for it in the 2010 tea party wave election.
Americans should indeed remember Democrats’ obstruction at this crucial time of crisis when every day counts. They should also remember where Joe Biden was at the time, cheering on Pelosi’s “tremendous opportunity to restructure things” — rather than encouraging the passage of a compromise to give Americans much-needed relief in the crisis.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.