Much as we hate to agree with President Donald Trump on anything, the $900 billion fiscal stimulus approved by Congress on Monday night is, like the accompanying funding deal to avert a government shutdown, more than a little underwhelming. It’s not quite the “disgrace” he called it in a tweet late Tuesday night, nor does it amount to the “wasteful spending” he says it does. It is, however, a shadow of the multi-trillion-dollar CARES Act approved last spring, and both Democrats and President Trump wanted to spend substantially more. Even Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell counseled against a too-small second stimulus causing a “weak” recovery. Simply put, in this almost unparalleled circumstance of a pandemic, “throwing money” at the problem is exactly the right thing to do. It amounts to taxpayers borrowing from their future selves to keep afloat in the months ahead.
And what did these weeks and months of bickering between congressional factions accomplish? Add drama to the lives of negotiators? Demonstrate the dysfunction of our legislative branch? Ratchet up anxiety and uncertainty in the lives of ordinary Americans, some of whom are quite filled to the brim with that in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic, by the way? If this was supposed to be a Dickensian Christmas drama, it appears Ebenezer Scrooge only learned his lesson partially from the holiday spirits. No turkey for the Cratchits, but maybe a plate of reheated mac-and-cheese. It is a moment less reminiscent of “A Christmas Carol” and more like “Oliver Twist” — “Please, sir, I want some more.” The only thing missing is the resulting swing of a ladle to the head.
Here’s what all that wasted energy has wrought: $600 checks for people making up to $75,000 a year, $300 per week in added unemployment benefits through mid-March, more Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses (at more than one-third the cost of the package), and some direct aid for struggling transportation systems, food stamp benefits, coronavirus vaccines, testing and tracing, rental aid and a one-month extension of the federal eviction ban, education aid (including forgiving federal loans to Historically Black Colleges and Universities), a small pay boost for the military and some other small odds and ends. Senate Republicans held the line on aid to “Democrat-run” states and cities, but not really. Many other forms of direct aid — health care and education costs, for example — will indirectly soften the blow of reduced tax collections on local government budgets.
Democrats are vowing that this isn’t the last economic relief package of the pandemic and that things will be different once Joe Biden takes the oath of office, but will they? It seems like Republicans had plenty of incentive to get this done before the Georgia runoff elections. Then what? If Democrats take both those Senate seats in what would surely be the political upset of the year, then yes, a change of heart is possible. But aside from that, why should anyone expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to lift a finger to accomplish anything other than block Democratic initiatives? Wasn’t that his stated purpose when Barack Obama served as president? Talk about your unrepentant Scrooge. Senator McConnell’s only transformation is going to be from Trump-enabler into deficit hawk once the Petulant One has left the White House. You don’t have to be a famous author to see that chapter coming.
These are trying times. Many Americans will soon be celebrating the Christmas holiday and New Year’s Eve after that. It’s a time for good will toward all, for charity, for generosity, for inspiration, thankfulness and faith. Many of the trappings of the season are there, but families and friends won’t be. Large, in-person religious services? Not so much of that either. Even greeting cards and packages might be late this year. Yet above it all, it’s still appropriate to give thanks to all including our elected leaders and wish them well in the year to come. But let us also pray that Mr. McConnell and others will come to their senses and recognize that their “bipartisan breakthrough” is pretty thin gruel for a nation with 12 million unemployed, more than 317,000 COVID-19 deaths and counting, and with the knowledge that even with much-heralded vaccines, a return to normalcy is still many months away. They may not all be miserly curmudgeons on Capitol Hill but one overdue relief measure doesn’t mean they are keeping Christmas in their hearts either.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.