The GOP Plot To Sabotage The Economy To Cripple A Biden Presidency

The New York Times reports that Republicans Clash on Stimulus as Trump Says ‘Go Big’ and McConnell Demurs:

President Trump clashed with his own party on Thursday over a stimulus package to stabilize the economy, calling for a big-spending plan of the kind envisioned by Democrats even as the top Republican leader declared that such a measure had little support within the party.

Mr. Trump declared he “would go higher” than the latest $1.8 trillion framework the White House has put forward in negotiations with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, faulting his own Treasury secretary for failing to offer enough money in the talks. A short time later, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, all but ruled out such a deal, saying senators in his party would never support a package of that magnitude.

“He’s talking about a much larger amount than I can sell to my members,” Mr. McConnell told reporters in Kentucky, a refrain he reiterated in multiple appearances across the state. Instead, he plans next week to try to advance a scaled-down $500 billion package, which is likely to fail without Democratic support.

Bloomberg News offers a clue as to what this is really about:

A GOP strategist who has been consulting with Senate campaigns said Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.

This is a reprisal of the secret cabal of Republicans who plotted to sabotage President Barack Obama’s presidency with a policy of “total obstruction,” as reported by Frontline on PBS, The Republicans’ Plan for the New President:

On the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries quietly gathered in a Washington steakhouse to lick their wounds and ultimately create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration.

“The room was filled. It was a who’s who of ranking members who had at one point been committee chairmen, or in the majority, who now wondered out loud whether they were in the permanent minority,” Frank Luntz, who organized the event, told FRONTLINE.

Among them were Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan.

After three hours of strategizing, they decided they needed to fight Obama on everything. The new president had no idea what the Republicans were planning.

Remember, Republicans did this after having blown up the American economy and almost blowing up the world’s financial system with their reckless economic and fiscal policies. America was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and the Republican answer was not to work to save the country, but to destroy a Democratic president and Congress the country had just elected to power. It was all about the pursuit of raw political power, the only motivating principle for the Republican Party.

Greg Sargent explains, How Republicans will try to destroy a Biden presidency:

New reporting from Bloomberg News strongly suggests another angle worth investigating, if the goal is to truly get to the bottom of what might end up holding up a [pandemic relief] agreement.

And this angle points to an even bigger story: how Republicans may already be laying the groundwork to try to destroy a Joe Biden presidency, should he win the election.

The short version: A Senate GOP strategist privately confided to Bloomberg that a key Republican goal right now is to lay the groundwork to revert hard to austerity, should Biden prevail, crippling the possibility of any serious stimulus efforts next year, even amid continued economic misery.

As of now, Senate Republicans are hostile to supporting a deal even if the White House and House Democrats can reach one. The White House’s $1.8 trillion offer includes some things Democrats want, such as $1,200 checks to individuals, but Pelosi wants more money for aid to states and a national strategy against the novel coronavirus, among other things.

Senate Republicans may not even accept spending levels that the White Houseis proposing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is planning a vote on a far smaller package — $500 billion for extended assistance for the unemployed and small businesses, among other things.

The Senate bill appears designed to do the minimum while giving vulnerable GOP senators a way to say they’re doing something at a moment of deep economic peril, in hopes of salvaging McConnell’s majority.

But Trump undermined that strategy by tweeting: “Go big or go home!” Now Senate Republicans risk getting split between the conservative impulse to spend as little as possible (at least on aid to distressed Americans) and Trump’s demand (for now, anyway) for more spending.

But, given that spending more now would likely boost Trump’s reelection chances, why aren’t Senate Republicans on board?

The Bloomberg report offers this remarkable clue:

A GOP strategist who has been consulting with Senate campaigns said Republicans have been carefully laying the groundwork to restrain a Biden administration on federal spending and the budget deficit by talking up concerns about the price tag for another round of virus relief. The thinking, the strategist said, is that it would be very hard politically to agree on spending trillions more now and then in January suddenly embrace fiscal restraint.

This comes from an anonymous source. But it accords with what all our intuitions and our understanding of recent U.S. political history tell us. Republicans almost certainly suspect Trump will lose even with a big stimulus and already hope to put an incoming President Joe Biden in a fiscal straitjacket, saddling him with the terrible politics of a grueling recovery.

A big package now under a GOP president would make that harder to get away with. That’s bad enough, but the evolving strategy here may be worse than this suggests. The calculation is probably not just about avoiding the hypocrisy of spending big now and embracing austerity under a Democratic president.

It’s also likely that a big package now would put the economy in a somewhat better position early next year, when Biden (should he win) would take over. This, too, is probably what Republicans want to avoid.

Indeed, as Eric Levitz points out, if Republicans can scuttle a robust package now, that would hand Biden a “deepening recession.” If Republicans hold the Senate and can block big stimulus measures at that point, Levitz continues, “Biden’s presidency would be over before it starts.”

And so, when McConnell chortled with glee at this week’s debate in Kentucky about the failure to pass more aid at a desperate national moment, it telegraphed what’s coming. And we’ve already lived through what happened when Republicans, led by McConnell, tried to cripple the recovery from a previous economic calamity that a Democratic president inherited from a Republican one.

Back then, McConnell calculated that if Republicans adopted a strategy of openly tailoring everything around the overarching goal of denying Barack Obama bipartisan support, Obama would take the blame for it. It’s likely McConnell is already thinking the same.

Obviously Republicans might theoretically oppose more spending to address a recession during a Biden presidency out of adherence to principle, however egregiously misguided. But notably, the GOP strategist above also telegraphs a strategy of constraining Biden by suddenly claiming to care deeply about deficits.

That’s particularly galling, given that Trump and the GOP passed a massive corporate tax giveaway that lavished enormous benefits on top earners while helping to explode the deficit. Now concern over that deficit will be used to try to cripple a Biden presidency through austerity.

Which leads to a final point. As I’ve noted, Trump campaigned in 2016 on a (fraudulent) promise to break with orthodox conservative economics, including opposition to big expenditures in the public interest, vowing to preserve safety nets and invest in job-creating infrastructure.

In many ways Trump tossed that vow aside and embraced GOP plutocracy. But now he’s suddenly desperate to secure another huge spending infusion, because he needs one to salvage his reelection hopes. So it would constitute a perverse form of poetic justice if a GOP refusal to go along — one rooted in a strategy of hamstringing a Democratic president from addressing deep national challenges — ends up contributing in some small way to Trump’s political demise.

Jonathan Bernstein explains further, Republicans Are Setting Up a Nuclear Winter (excerpt):

I continue to think it’s unlikely that strategies based on the assumption of President Donald Trump’s defeat were driving Senate Republicans back in April and May, when this bill was first on the table. It seems much more likely that their opposition was based on a sincere belief by some of them — despite the broad consensus of economists — that more spending would be counterproductive, along with a fear among others that crossing those “conservatives” and voting for a big spending bill would be politically dangerous, either this November or in some future primary. At this point, though, it’s possible that even those who accept mainstream economics may be, as Greg Sargent suggests, attempting to undermine what they now see as a likely Biden presidency.

If so, they’ll presumably continue to oppose any large stimulus in the post-election lame-duck session, especially if Democrats win majorities in the House and Senate along with the White House.

I hate to get too speculative about 2021, but in this case it’s necessary. Because the flaw in Republican reasoning, if this is what they intend, is that the most likely justification for Senate Democrats to use the “nuclear option” and eliminate the legislative filibuster would be the scenario that Republicans seem to be setting up: a deep recession, only minimal stimulus since March 2020, and incoming Democratic majorities unable to provide further relief because of Republican rejectionism. Faced with the choice of procedural complaints if they act, or the possibility of economic (and perhaps political) disaster if they don’t, Democrats might have the votes to go nuclear even if they have the slimmest of majorities.

In other words, too much rejectionism might backfire badly. There’s a lengthy agenda of Democratic policy preferences that might have the votes in a simple-majority Senate but that don’t have the urgency, especially among moderates, to push the party to go nuclear. After eliminating the filibuster, many of those items might well pass. Meanwhile, without the need to attract Republicans, a partisan stimulus might be very large, and very effective. Especially if it coincided with large-scale distribution of a vaccine.

Of course, Trump could still win. And even if he loses Republicans could still retain a Senate majority, in which case the filibuster won’t be the issue. But if Democrats do win? Republicans could’ve pushed for a stimulus deal over the summer, when it might’ve helped Trump and their own senators. They could still push for a deal now. Even in the lame-duck session, even if they’ve lost badly, they would still have considerable leverage. But the truth is that many of them would rather lose on policy, even lose badly, than to compromise. And while we’re still several steps away from having this all work itself out, one increasingly possible outcome appears to involve Republicans pushing Democrats into setting up a majority-party-rules Senate and then passing way more of their agenda than anyone expected.

This is the maximalist best outcome for the country.

Voters need to vote every Republican out of office to prevent their purposeful and malignant sabotage of the government, as they did after Barack Obama’s election. This country cannot afford yet another “lost decade” because of Republican obstruction, sabotage, and abuse of power.

This is an intellectually and morally bankrupt political party unworthy of being entrusted with governance that needs to be disempowered by an overwhelming electoral defeat. The GOP must be punished by the American people for its multiplicity of sins, and forced to wander in the wilderness for a generation or two. Let them don sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes begging the American people for forgiveness for the evil they have inflicted on this country.