By Rex Nutting
Blame Donald Trump all you want for Washington’s failure to deliver more relief and stimulus to the battered economy. But the failure is not his, not entirely. If Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had wanted to do it, it would have been done.
McConnell has gotten everything he wanted out of Trump’s presidency: A big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, a judiciary packed with young conservatives.
The Republican senator from Kentucky may be the most powerful person in Washington. His strength doesn’t rely on subservience to Trump, but on his skill in orchestrating the most autocratic institution in the land. He’s a master, and he plans on being there for a while longer. At 78, he’s running for re-election to another six-year term.
Although both men have occasionally mentioned further stimulus, neither Trump nor McConnell wanted another stimulus bill urgently enough to get it done. The “greatest deal maker” in history never engaged with the Democrats, and McConnell seemed happy to let the effort fail.
Now they are talking about piecemeal proposals that may bail out a few industries, but nothing substantive that would boost the economy, move the needle on the stock market /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.34% /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA -0.10% , or help the people who are struggling to pay the rent or buy food.
At first glance, McConnell’s indifference to further economic assistance is a puzzle. McConnell was fully onboard with economic stimulus and relief in March and April, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers and administration officials crafted a series of measures that flooded the economy with timely and targeted aid.
It wasn’t perfect, but it got results.
The government assistance approved in March and April kept millions of households, thousands of business, and the U.S. economy in general afloat for much of the summer, before most of the provisions expired. You’d think that another shot of adrenaline before the election could have sealed a Republican victory in November by making the economy a big plus instead of a question mark.
Voters were predisposed to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on the economy. All he needed to do was get the coronavirus under control and the election was his.
Jeffry Bartash reports: Trump loses big edge over Biden on the economy as election looms
Trump’s refusal to take a stimulus deal handed to him by Nancy Pelosi is difficult to understand in purely political terms. When the opposition party is eager to hand you a $4 trillion boost to the economy right before the vote, you don’t reject it out of hand. Yet Trump did. So did McConnell.
Trump has never played by the traditional rules of politics. What’s more, the need for stimulus never suited his approach to the pandemic. Accepting a deal on coronavirus aid might undercut his main campaign talking point: That everything is fine. That the pandemic is totally under control and the economy is roaring back like never before.
Why did Mitch say no?