After the Senate's 96-0 vote late Wednesday evening on its coronavirus stimulus package, the economic future of the nation is now in the hands of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.).
She, however, is in no rush. On Wednesday morning, Pelosi brought the House's pro forma session to a close in just two minutes. Although she told reporters Thursday that she expects the bill will pass the House "with strong bipartisan support," a vote on the relief package is not expected until Friday morning to give members time to consider the 800-page proposal. Pelosi said Wednesday during a press gaggle that she would like to see "a good debate on the floor" before passage.
American businesses, meanwhile, are buckling. The latest unemployment claims, released Thursday, show 3.3 million Americans without a job, nearly five times the peak of the Great Recession. The Senate's package contains trillions in relief for workers, families, and businesses—an emergency infusion for an economy on life support.
Friday's long-delayed passage will cap off a week in which Pelosi, unsatisfied with what she called Republicans' "trickle-down" approach, played roadblock to the bailout process, killing an initial deal before proposing a bill stuffed with diversity handouts. The move did secure concessions, including oversight of $500 billion for bailouts that Democrats have labeled a "slush fund" for corporations. But it also likely cost precious days amid an economic and health crisis that grows exponentially worse by the minute.
Pelosi's maneuvering began Sunday evening, when, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) claims, she returned from the House's recess to intervene in the bill he had negotiated with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). Senate Democrats twice blocked an initial version of the stimulus—a surprising rebuff to their Republican colleagues, who had assented to the House's previous "phase two" bill largely without objection.
As Senate negotiations floundered, Pelosi floated her own bill. The 1,400-page plan would have (among other proposals) mandated a "diversity report" from all corporations receiving a bailout, created nationwide early voting regimes, and poured millions of federal dollars into organizations clearly unrelated to the crisis, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Much of Pelosi's woke pork did not make it into the Senate's final version (although funding for the Kennedy center did). But the delay raised questions, including among Obama administration veterans, of how seriously Pelosi was taking the crisis. "Skimming [her bill], I was struck by: 'What does all this shit have to do with anything?'" one told Politico.
Pelosi, for her part, has pinned the blame for the slow process on Republicans, including the trio of senators who held up the bill on Wednesday night over concerns that some would leave the workforce to receive more pay from unemployment benefits. She has emphasized that McConnell's bill was unacceptable—as she put it to CNN's Wolf Blitzer Wednesday, "When this bill was introduced by Senator McConnell, it was corporate down. Now it is worker up."
But the week between the first introduction and when the relief package finally reaches President Donald Trump's desk is precious time lost. Both businesses and hospitals are subject to what George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen has called the "speed premium"—the benefits of some action (in this case, an infusion of government cash) decline rapidly the longer they take to actually get there.
"What many people do not realize," Cowen writes, "is that 'the speed premium' is vastly higher when a deadly virus is doubling in reach every five to seven days." Because of the coronavirus's exponential rate of spread, a week can mean the difference between one life lost and 1,000, between 300 jobs lost or 3 million.
McConnell, who helped push through phase two rapidly, appears to understand this—he chastised his Democratic colleagues Sunday, saying "the notion that we have time to play games here with the American economy and the American people is utterly absurd." But the brinksmanship on display this week, from Pelosi and others, indicates that others may not—a misunderstanding that is already proving disastrous.