Mitch McCon­nell’s mis­sion of mis­ery

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Weekend Perspectiv­es - Paul Krug­man is a colum­nist for The New York Times.

Ikeep see­ing news re­ports say­ing that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is “piv­ot­ing” on eco­nomic stim­u­lus. But Don­ald Trump has been rev­ers­ing po­si­tions so fre­quently that it looks less like a series of piv­ots than like a tail­spin.

Over the course of just a week he went from de­mand­ing big stim­u­lus, to call­ing off ne­go­ti­a­tions, to de­mand­ing big stim­u­lus again, to call­ing for a small- scale deal us­ing al­ready al­lo­cated funds.

It would be funny if the hu­man con­se­quences weren’t so ter­ri­ble. At this point the best guess is that for the next three- plus months — that is, un­til Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den takes of­fice ( highly likely, though not cer­tain) with a Demo­cratic Se­nate ( more likely than not, but def­i­nitely not a sure thing) — there will be lit­tle or no aid for the mil­lions of fam­i­lies, thou­sands of busi­nesses and many state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments on the brink of dis­as­ter.

But why isn’t Amer­ica get­ting the pan­demic re­lief it so ob­vi­ously needs?

It’s easy to blame Mr. Trump, who has man­aged to spend four years in of­fice with­out learn­ing any­thing about pol­icy and has sur­rounded him­self with of­fi­cials cho­sen for slav­ish per­sonal loy­alty rather than ex­per­tise. As a re­cent ar­ti­cle in Politico put it: “Never mind the A Team. At this point, even the B Team would rep­re­sent a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade.”

But even if Mr. Trump had any idea what he was do­ing, he would be par­a­lyzed by the op­po­si­tion of many, prob­a­bly most Se­nate Repub­li­cans to any se­ri­ous deal. They’re will­ing to cover for Mr. Trump’s un­prece­dented cor­rup­tion; they’re ap­par­ently un­both­ered by his fond­ness for for­eign dic­ta­tors. But spend­ing money to help Amer­i­cans in dis­tress? That’s where they draw the line.

This was ob­vi­ous even be­fore the coron­avirus struck. Re­mem­ber how Mr. Trump promised to spend tril­lions on in­fra­struc­ture, then de­faulted on that promise? “In­fra­struc­ture week” even­tu­ally be­came a run­ning joke. But while Mr. Trump’s in­fra­struc­ture pro­pos­als never made any sense, in early 2019 it seemed as if he might ac­tu­ally have a deal with Democrats for a se­ri­ous spend­ing plan.

But the deal went nowhere thanks to op­po­si­tion from Se­nate

Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Mitch McCon­nell, the ma­jor­ity leader.

Mr. McCon­nell and com­pany are also the main rea­son we don’t have a deal to help Amer­i­cans sur­vive the eco­nomic ef­fects of the pan­demic.

We should have had a deal in the sum­mer, when it was al­ready ob­vi­ous that the res­cue pack­age ap­proved in March was go­ing to ex­pire much too soon. But Se­nate Repub­li­cans were adamantly op­posed to pro­vid­ing the nec­es­sary aid. Lind­sey Gra­ham de­clared that emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits would be ex­tended “over our dead bod­ies” ( ac­tu­ally 215,000 other peo­ple’s dead bod­ies, but who’s count­ing?).

And Mr. McCon­nell — whose state ben­e­fits from far more fed­eral spend­ing than it pays in taxes — de­rided pro­posed aid to states as a “blue state bailout.”

The thing is, Mr. Trump’s chances of re- elec­tion and McCon­nell’s chances of hold­ing on to the Se­nate would al­most surely be bet­ter if there ac­tu­ally had been an in­fra­struc­ture bill last year and a re­lief bill this sum­mer. Why weren’t Repub­li­cans will­ing to make those deals?

What­ever they may say, they weren’t con­cerned about the cost. Repub­li­cans didn’t worry about bud­get deficits when they rammed through a $ 2 tril­lion tax cut for cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy. They only pose as deficit hawks when try­ing to block spend­ing that might help or­di­nary Amer­i­cans.

No, what this is re­ally about is the modern GOP’s plu­to­cratic agenda. Mr. McCon­nell and, as far as I can tell, ev­ery mem­ber of his cau­cus are com­pletely com­mit­ted to cut­ting taxes on the rich and aid to the poor and mid­dle class. Other than March’s CARES Act, which Repub­li­cans passed only be­cause they were pan­ick­ing over a plung­ing stock mar­ket, it’s hard to think of any ma­jor GOP- ap­proved fis­cal leg­is­la­tion in the last two decades that didn’t re­dis­tribute in­come up­ward.

You might think that Repub­li­cans would set the plu­to­cratic im­per­a­tive aside when the case for more gov­ern­ment spend­ing is com­pelling, whether it’s to re­pair our crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture or to pro­vide re­lief dur­ing a pan­demic. But all indi­ca­tions are that they be­lieve — prob­a­bly rightly — that suc­cess­ful gov­ern­ment pro­grams make the pub­lic more re­cep­tive to pro­pos­als for ad­di­tional pro­grams.

That’s why the GOP has tried so fran­ti­cally to over­turn the Af­ford­able Care Act; at this point it’s clear that Oba­macare’s suc­cess in cut­ting the num­ber of unin­sured Amer­i­cans has cre­ated an ap­petite for fur­ther health care re­form.

And that’s why Repub­li­cans are un­will­ing to pro­vide des­per­ately needed aid to eco­nomic vic­tims of the pan­demic. They aren’t wor­ried that a re­lief pack­age would fail; they’re wor­ried that it might suc­ceed, show­ing that some­times more gov­ern­ment spend­ing is a good thing. In­deed, a suc­cess­ful re­lief pack­age might pave the way for Demo­cratic pro­pos­als that would, among other things, dras­ti­cally re­duce child poverty.

So while Mr. Trump bears much of the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mis­ery fac­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, Mr. McCon­nell prob­a­bly bears an equal share. Will they pay the po­lit­i­cal price? We’ll find out in two weeks.

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