- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2020

The 14 House Democrats who almost sunk House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s $3 trillion coronavirus rescue bill provided a glimpse at the calculations the party is making ahead of the election.

Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are channeling their agendas into their coronavirus approach; campaigning for November without hitting the physical campaign trail.

“Nothing is not political for six months out of a presidential election,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told The Washington Times.

With the massive Democrat-led package dead on arrival in the Senate, it was a strong messaging effort from Mrs. Pelosi as Republicans block her attempts to move more legislation across the finish line.

However, the number of defections within her own party put a wrinkle in that message.

Progressives were frustrated that the bill doesn’t do more on unemployment or health care, while moderates thought there are too many unrelated items that are known poison bills for the GOP.

Most of the 14 Democrats that broke rank and voted against the bill — with the notable exception of top progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal — were from conservative-leaning districts that President Trump won in 2016.

It’s these frontline districts that were key to the Democrats retaking the majority, and vital as they go on defense in November.

“Unfortunately, many Members of Congress — including some in my own party — have decided to use this package as an opportunity to make political statements and propose a bill that goes far beyond pandemic relief and has no chance at becoming law, further delaying the help so many need. Therefore, I will respectfully vote against this bill,” Rep. Abigail Spanberger, Virginia Democrat, said in a statement Friday.

“At this time, we must come together to build a targeted, timely relief package that avoids partisan posturing and instead prioritizes combatting our nationwide public health emergency, addressing catastrophic unemployment rates, and protecting the security of the next generation,” she added.

The package would provide more than $800 billion for state and local governments — a major priority for Democrats that didn’t make it into previous rescue bills.

It includes another round of direct payments to Americans of up to $1,200 per family member and up to $6,000 per household, and extends the $600 in additional weekly federal unemployment benefits through January. The bill would allow some undocumented immigrants to receive the stimulus checks.

Additionally, the bill would expand access to voting by mail by saying states can’t impose additional requirements on otherwise eligible voters to cast an absentee ballot through the mail.

Another $175 billion would go to rent and mortgage subsidies and $25 billion would prop up the struggling U.S. Post Office.

The bill eliminates for two years a $10,000 cap on the state and local tax deduction, a prized benefit for generally higher-income residents in blue, high-tax states. The cap was imposed as part of the 2017 GOP tax cuts.

Brad Bannon, a D.C.-based Democratic strategist, said the issue that Mrs. Pelosi needs to take into account for these members was the hefty price tag.

“I think the dollar figure is probably is a concern, especially in swing districts. But on the other hand, you have to make the argument — this is an unprecedented disaster with the body towns and the job losses,” he told The Washington Times. “Urgent times, urgent actions.”

Which Mrs. Pelosi has been doing.

“The chairman of the Fed has told us to think big. It’s never going to be cheaper, he said, because the cost of interest is so low. The cost of credit is so low,” she said on the House floor Friday. “I say not to act now is not only irresponsible in a humanitarian way — It is irresponsible because it’s only going to cost more. More in terms of lives, livelihoods, cost to the budget, cost to our democracy.”

Mr. Bannon said that message of urgency is at the heart of the Democratic strategy, contrasting with the GOP focus on China and the economic rebound via lifting lockdown orders.

“The Democratic message is simple. We’re in a crisis and we need immediate action to help the people who were affected by the crisis,” he said. “The GOP message is pretty mixed: blame it on China, we have to go slow on the relief package. That’s a tough sale.”

“I think voters see Republicans as dragging their feet in terms of responding to an urgent crisis. And it’s only going to get worse,” he added.

Mr. O’Connell argued Democrats are trying to make the November election a referendum on the coronavirus to shore up their party’s chances to defeat President Trump on the national scale and secure the down-ballot votes.

“What the Republicans want to do is, they want to be seen as good managers quarterbacking the coronavirus response, so that the money goes to those who are most in need. What the Republicans see right now of what’s killing America is a lack of commerce, rather than the coronavirus,” he said. “What the Democrats are hoping the primary question is, ‘Do you think Trump did a bad job on the coronavirus response?’”

“If coronavirus, in most people’s minds, goes from primarily a health issue to primarily an economic issue, then Donald Trump is going to win,” he added.

A recent CNN poll, showed that only 36% of Americans approve of how the president has handled the pandemic.

Top Republicans — including Mr. Trump and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — have accused the Democrats of holding onto the lockdown policies for “political purposes” and hurt the economy before November.

Ultimately, Mr. Bannon argued that claim gets back to key point Democrats are trying to make — is the president effectively handling the pandemic.

“The buck stops here on the president’s desk,” he said. “And the reality is, Americans are very displeased with the president’s handling of coronavirus with good reason. He was slow to recognize the threat and slow to react when once he acknowledged it exists. So that’s very fertile ground for Democrats.”

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