"Every time the country faces a crisis, real or perceived, there is a rush in Congress to pass massive bills that go far beyond responding to the matter at hand." James Robbins, USA Today
You never let a serious crisis go to waste, as Rahm’s Rule says. Never was there a more concise summary of both the promise and dysfunction of American politics.
Every time the country faces a crisis, real or perceived, there is a rush in Congress to pass massive bills that go far beyond responding to the matter at hand. These phonebook-sized (if I can use an anachronism) emergency acts are too long and detailed for any legislator to read and fully comprehend, but you can bet they are stuffed with gimmicks, giveaways, sweetheart deals and ill-advised policies with no bearing on the crisis itself.
The latest example is the newly-introduced House version of the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act,” intended to afford stimulus and stability in the face of the economic crisis fomented by COVID-19. The bill may provide some form of succor to the economy, but in the words of Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), the crisis is also “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” In other words, coronavirus gives good cover to impose progressive requirements on stricken businesses and a society eager to see government simply act. And fast.
Liberal special interests
The 1119-page bill is Christmas in March for liberal special interests. It imposes racial and gender pay equity provisions, diversity on corporate boards, increased use of minority-owned banks by federal offices, and a grab-bag of other diversity-themed requirements. It increases the collective bargaining power for unions and cancels all the debt owed by the U.S. Postal Service to the U.S. Treasury. For the global warming crowd there are increased fuel emission standards and required carbon offsets for airlines, plus tax credits for alternative energy programs. For the kids there is a provision for student loan payment deferment, and for the education bureaucrats who overcharge them a $9.5 billion giveaway to colleges and universities. It gives $100 million to juvenile justice programs, and suspends various aspects of enforcement of immigration laws.
Perhaps the most troubling sections of the bill are under the rubric ‘‘American Coronavirus/COVID–19 Election Safety and Security” or ‘‘ACCESS” Act. This section would impose requirements on states for early voting, voting by mail, required mailing of absentee ballots to everyone, ballot harvesting (i.e., having third parties deliver absentee ballots), online voter registration, same-day registration and other practices which undermine confidence in the integrity of the ballot. In these days of increasing threats to election security we should be moving rapidly back to in-person paper ballots, but this bill would be a radical step in the wrong direction.
It is hard quickly to root out whatever other aspects of this bill bear no relationship to COVID-19, but to its backers that is the point. We can’t really know what’s in it until they pass it, to paraphrase Speaker Pelosi on another such memorable occasion.
The politics of the Democratic proposal are not hard to figure. Democrats are concerned that the Coronavirus crisis could be a “9/11 moment” for President Trump, that people might put aside partisanship for a moment to rally around a leader trying his best to help the country cope.
In fact a more bipartisan stimulus measure had been negotiated over several days in the Senate and was headed towards a key procedural vote when it was stopped dead Sunday at Pelosi’s urging and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s obeisance. President Trump criticized the New York Times for allegedly giving the Democrats cover on stopping progress by running three successive headlines about the impasse in the Senate — the first two correctly blaming Democrats and the third shifting blame to the more vague “partisan divide.” But there was no divide on this issue until Pelosi decided to create it.
Democrats seek to feed Republicans a crisis response bill packed with poison pills, placing them in a no-win situation. Either they go along with this nonsense, handing the bill to Trump to sign, or if Republicans push back it leads to another round of chest-beating and blame coming from Democrats and the media. And the markets continue to collapse.
But this attempt to either humiliate or hamstring the President is so bold, so obvious, so opportunistic and so reckless in this time of crisis, that it can hardly succeed. Americans want to see bipartisanship, they want strong leadership, and they want the cure to the crisis to not be worse than he disease. Playing political games as many people watch their jobs vanish, their businesses collapse and their life savings evaporate while they sit in quarantine, and as others sicken and die, is not just bad politics for Democrats, it is simply bad for everyone.
James S. Robbins, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors and author of This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive, has taught at the National Defense University and the Marine Corps University and served as a special assistant in the office of the secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration. Follow him on Twitter: @James_Robbins.