Ghosts of 2009 Drive Democrats’ Push for Strong Disaster Response
WASHINGTON – Ten Republican senators on Sunday asked President Biden to slash his $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill.
However, her proposal has been warmly received by Democrats as they prepare this week to push their own comprehensive package – even if it ultimately means cutting Republicans out of the process. The White House and top Democrats are determined to swiftly implement their stimulus plan this time around and are reluctant to roll it back or implement it as they were beset by their misjudgments in 2009 when they last controlled the government and faced an economic crisis that made significant changes watering it down without being sure of getting Republicans on board.
“The dangers of falling short of our response are far greater than exceeding them,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and new majority leader. “We should have learned the lesson from 2008 and 2009, when Congress was too shy and restricted in its response to the financial crisis.”
Their strategy can be traced back to 12 years ago when Barack Obama became president, the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress, and embarked on both an economic bailout and a major health care overhaul.
In hindsight, in seeking Republican support for both, the Democrats have been satisfied with too little economic incentive and prolonged talks about the health measure for too long.
That view fueled the party’s unimpressed response on Sunday to the new offer from Senate Republicans, who asked to meet Mr Biden to come up with a much smaller incentive proposal. In a letter, the 10 senators – enough specifically to take down a filibuster – said their priorities in crucial areas like vaccine distribution coincided with Mr Biden’s.
However, members of the group made it clear in interviews on Sunday that their plan was less than a third of Mr Biden’s proposal. Democrats said they would review but insist on a full legislative response.
Talks with Republicans are expected to continue, and Mr Biden invited Senator Susan Collins from Maine and other signatories to the White House to the White House on Sunday. But the Democrats are set to launch a budget process known as reconciliation this week, and not subject to any filibuster, that will allow them to enforce pandemic legislation on their own if a non-partisan agreement is not reached.
At this opportunity, Republicans scream that the Democrats are giving up their bipartisan promise without giving it a chance, warning that efforts will poison their ability to do bipartisan deals. The objection ignores the fact that when Republicans took control of Congress in January 2017, they overran the Democrats and started their own reconciliation process even before Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, paving the way for a $ 1 tax package to be passed. $ 5 trillion leveled muscled without a single democratic vote.
“We’re giving the opportunity to work out important and timely laws. Why not do that instead of trying to enforce it with reconciliation and have a fully partisan product?” asked Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska and one of the signatories to the new letter.
Though they haven’t yet implemented their plan, members of the group said it would leave out the Democrats’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage and reduce direct stimulus payments to individuals, excluding Americans who earn more than $ 50,000 a year, or families with one combined income more than $ 100,000.
“Let’s focus on those who are struggling,” said Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman on CNN’s State of the Union program on Sunday.
But for the Democrats, the 2009 scars were deep. First, they believe they have been too accommodating to the Republicans who have called for restraint in order to stimulate the economy. Then the Democrats saw themselves as the sandbag of Republicans who negotiated long health care before pulling the plug and opposed laws that helped them create and ignite a partisan struggle that deared the Democrats in the 2010 mid-term election had cost.
This time around, the Democrats say the new aid needs to be robust and delivered quickly. They do not intend to allow Republicans to determine the timing or scope of the legislation.
“I’m not going to let Republican senators stand for the sole purpose of stalling,” said Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, on an Invest in America advocacy conference call. He added that his view was based on his own experience as a junior member of the panel during the Great Recession.
Mr Biden would no doubt prefer to push through his proposal with the support of both parties to show that he is able to bridge the differences between the two parties. However, the White House has insisted that it will not undo its plan to secure Republican support and that while the changes could be adjusted, the changes will not be too substantial.
“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not too great,” said Biden, who was Vice President in 2009, on Friday in the White House and opened the same topic as Mr Schumer. “The risk is not enough.”
Like Mr Biden that year, Mr Obama optimistically entered the White House to work with Republicans in 2009 and 2008 saw promising signs. In the face of a grave economic emergency, Republicans in Congress, Democrats and George W. Bush presented themselves with administration working closely to approve the $ 700 billion bailout on Wall Street. Republicans also appeared disappointed with the heavy November election losses, suggesting that some may be open to cooperation.
But to an extent that was not immediately apparent, top Republicans in the House and Senate were quick to decide that their best route to regaining power was to stay united against Obama’s agenda, an attitude Republicans later recognized.
As a result, the government and Democratic leaders had to make several concessions to ensure that the votes of three Republicans and some moderate Democrats had to provide the minimum of 60 votes to overcome deep Republican opposition to the stimulus package. That meant keeping the amount at $ 787 billion, less than some economists said at the time, and potentially slowing the recovery.
Then came the Health Act. The Democrats were determined to both expand access to affordable health insurance and work with Republicans. They were also concerned then about repeating past mistakes, particularly Clinton’s health care efforts in 1994, the spectacular collapse of which was partly due to Republicans not being involved from the start.
While many Republicans were considered unreachable in 2009, a group of three Senators who had influence over health policy – Charles E. Grassley from Iowa, Mike Enzi from Wyoming, and Olympia Snowe from Maine – conducted lengthy negotiations with three Democratic colleagues in the group became known as the Gang of Six.
To bring them with them, the Democrats suggested a market-based approach rather than the government-led depository program sought by many liberals. They even avoided a limited public opportunity to appease Republicans and some moderate Democrats. Even so, the talks dragged on, and Republicans withdrew amid violent protests at events at Congress Hall across the country.
Frustrated and believing that Democrats were being carried away, Mr. Obama called Mr. Grassley to the White House in September 2009 along with Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who led the Gang of Six.
Mr. Obama recounted the scene in his new memoir, writing that he had pressured Mr. Grassley whether “if Max accepted each of your latest proposals, could you support the bill?” Mr. Grassley hesitated. “Are there any changes – at all – that your vote would bring us?” Mr. Obama asked, pulling what he called the awkward silence from the Republican Senator.
“I don’t think so, Mr. President,” Mr. Grassley finally replied.
As they rush forward this year, Democrats say they don’t want to find themselves in a similar position and work with Republicans only to find an inadequate response that doesn’t find bipartisan support.
Some Democrats are still hoping for a bipartisan agreement on at least some elements of the government’s coronavirus response, saying the party must make a legitimate attempt to get together with Republicans.
“We should try to do what we can in a bipartisan way,” West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III, a leading Democrat in the bipartisan talks, told reporters. He said it would then be appropriate for Mr Schumer “to use other means to move things forward” when progress could not be made.
Emily Cochrane, Luke Broadwater and Alan Rappeport contributed to the coverage.