Go, Bernie, go! Filibuster all night and ruin the Senate’s New Year’s Eve

If you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, look no further than the recent alliance between Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Democrats over increasing stimulus checks to $2,000 and the nonsensical Republican opposition

They say politics makes strange bedfellows.  This has never been more true as Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and other Democrats come together on a plan to increase the amount of the stimulus checks included in the coronavirus relief package against significant Republican opposition.

The fight is over whether to increase direct payments to US taxpayers to $2,000, a $1,400 add on to the paltry $600 included in the original bill passed before Christmas.

The battle lines were drawn on December 23 when President Trump released a video on Twitter criticizing the original bill.  “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it. It wasn’t their fault. It was China’s fault.  I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives, however, refused to approve the amendment by a procedure known as unanimous vote.  The bill was left in limbo for almost a week until Trump ultimately signed it, reluctantly, this past Sunday night, primarily because unemployment benefits would run out for millions of Americans.

The Democrat Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, immediately moved to pass a standalone bill for the increase.  “The President must immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000, which will be brought to the Floor tomorrow,” she said in a statement Sunday evening.

The House passed the bill on Monday with a vote of 275-134; 130 Republicans voted against it, only 44 voted for it, suggesting significant opposition. Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hoped to quickly take up the bill in the upper chamber.

“Following the strong bipartisan vote in the House, tomorrow I will move to pass the legislation in the Senate to quickly deliver Americans with $2,000 emergency checks,” Schumer said in a statement. “Every Senate Democrat is for this much-needed increase in emergency financial relief, which can be approved tomorrow if no Republican blocks it — there is no good reason for Senate Republicans to stand in the way.”

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, unfortunately decided to stand in the way.  First, he blocked a unanimous vote on the measure.  Then, he proceeded to unveil legislation that combined two unrelated issues with the increase, repealing section 230 protections for social media companies (more on that topic below) and the creation of a commission to study election issues.

It is highly unlikely these two items can get to 60 votes in the Senate. McConnell surely knows this, meaning he appears to be trying to kill the increase.

Of course, nothing in modern legislative politics is ever so simple.  Between the corruption and incompetence, they can’t help themselves from combining all sorts of issues together for no rational reason on every single bill.  The section 230 repeal in particular was something Trump wanted in a prior bill that he vetoed last week.

Thus, there is another pressing matter before the Senate:  Overriding Trump’s veto of the Defense Authorization Act, a $740 billion spending and policy bill.  Trump vetoed the act on December 23 because it did not include the provision to repeal section 230, plus he objected to the renaming of military bases and restrictions on the President’s power to redirect military funding.

The veto was largely seen as a symbolic gesture given the overwhelming votes in both the House and the Senate.  The House voted 335-78; the Senate 84-14, both more than enough to override a Presidential Veto.  As expected, the House did move to override the veto on Monday, voting 322-87, leaving it up to the Senate to act.

This is where Bernie Sanders comes in:  To his credit, he plans to mount a filibuster on New Year’s Eve until the $2,000 stimulus checks are passed.  Technically, he will be filibustering the veto override vote, but his objective is to force a vote on a clean stimulus bill.

“McConnell and the Senate want to expedite the override vote and I understand that. But I’m not going to allow that to happen unless there is a vote, no matter how long that takes, on the $2,000 direct payment,” the Senator from Vermont said in an interview on Monday night.

To be sure, Bernie cannot hold up the override vote forever, but at least he is taking a principled stand.  The Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have no idea what they’re doing.  How did they even get to the point where they are fighting the most popular member of their party over increasing checks to Americans, in public no less?

First, it makes no sense to refuse to take a stand against social media companies exercising never before seen editorial censorship over our speech.  I understand that social media has very little to do with the Defense Authorization Act, but they combine unrelated matters all the time, see above for how we got here in the first place.

In this case, we’ve just witnessed Twitter locking the account of one of America’s oldest and widest read newspapers, and then lying about it to benefit their preferred Presidential candidate.

If we aren’t going to stop this now, then when?

President-elect Biden will take office on January 20, 2021.  His team is stocked with technology company executives.  If the Republicans don’t act now, they will not get another chance for at least four years, a period during which the social media companies will no doubt get even more aggressive with their un-American censorship tactics.

Second, it makes even less sense to oppose increasing payments to a pandemic rattled nation.

After four years of profligate spending, including trillions for coronavirus relief this year alone, the Republicans have suddenly discovered fiscal responsibility?  I consider myself a fiscal conservative, but spare me the lecture:  We’ve already spent and spent and spent, and then spent some more, helping struggling taxpayers is hardly the right hill to die on.

This is especially true when the relief bills discussed before the election were double the size of the current one.  Even with the increase in payments, we’re still spending about $700 billion less than previous proposals.

The Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, sums up the fiscal conservative position:  “Blindly borrowing or printing another two-thirds of a trillion dollars so we can send $2,000 to children, the deceased, and tens of millions of workers who haven’t missed a paycheck, like federal and state employees, is not sound economic policy nor is it something I am willing to support.”

Senator Toomey and others seem blissfully unaware of a few things:  First, these are dollars already collected from the taxpayers, the goal is to give some of it back.  Second, yes, some people who have continued working will get the check, but many of those people have been working reduced hours or had their salaries cut; the additional money will help alleviate their challenges.  Third, almost everyone has tightened their belts and reduced their spending habits due to fears about the future of the economy.

The whole point of the stimulus is not to replace every dollar lost to everyone, but to get people to spend to benefit the overall economy.  This is supposedly a key tenet of supply side economics, after all.

At this point, I have no idea where this will end.  It’s unclear how many Republican Senators remain opposed to the bill, nor as Biden himself weighed in any meaningful way.  Supposedly, he has an excellent relationship with McConnell.  I humbly suggest now might be a good time to leverage that relationship.

I do know that the Republicans are likely in dangerous territory to be seen opposing direct payments to taxpayers in this environment and to continually oppose Trump on his way out the door.

As Trump himself put it like only he can, “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH!” he wrote on Twitter. “Also, get rid of Section 230 – Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election. Get tough!”

Lastly, I never thought I’d write this, but I agree with Bernie Sanders, wholeheartedly.  Go, Bernie, go, even if all you can do is ruin some feckless politician’s New Year’s.

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