Opinion

The stimulus deal is the worst of both worlds

This is everything wrong with bipartisanship

This document contains more than one million words, making it slightly longer than A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell's classic 12-volume cycle, which is generally considered the longest novel in the English language. My calculations suggest that it would take more than 100 hours to read aloud.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 is ostensibly the long-awaited stimulus bill that President Trump had hoped to pass before the election in November. But it is both a great deal more and a lot less than a relief package. The bill does not, for example, offer a second round of $1,200 checks, much less the $2,000 per person Trump was insisting upon a week ago before being talked down, as he has been so often, by his perfidious counselors. Nor does it restore the $600 additional unemployment benefit offered to the jobless beginning in April. (Instead it offers $600 in direct payments and $300 in extra unemployment funds.)

What will it do instead? It will create two new Smithsonian museums and a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota. It will make it much easier for copyright holders to pursue increasingly frivolous claims against YouTube users. It will establish a framework for applying economic sanctions and other penalties to any Chinese national who attempts to interfere in the process by which the 15th Dalai Lama is chosen. It will ban a now-defunct activist group from receiving federal funding. The PDF hosted on the House website is so unstable that my laptop crashes every time I attempt to use the search function, so for all I know the bill will also make it a felony to cast aspersions upon Louie Gohmert's asparagus, remove statues of anyone born before 1971 from all federal property, and create a fractal-based algorithm for redrawing the nation's congressional districts.

All of which is to say that it was destined to pass both the House and the Senate by overwhelming margins, as indeed it has. There were some defections of course. From Mike Lee to AOC to the outgoing Tulsi Gabbard, a rag-tag assortment of progressives, libertarian ideologues, and mavericks voted against the bill, citing its length and the lack of time given to lawmakers for review, much less substantive debate, among other concerns.

But who, at this late hour, wanted to be the deciding vote against the bill? The process of bringing another major piece of relief legislation has been a game of chicken in which both cars abruptly hit their brakes at the last possible moment, when all the spectators had turned their heads. As far as Republicans are concerned, they took a bold stand on behalf of fiscal responsibility by nickel and diming the American people; Democrats, meanwhile, have made a bold investment in this country's economic future by earmarking millions of the dollars for the Kennedy Center, which laid off 20 staff members at the National Symphony Orchestra the last time it received bailout funds. Everyone's a winner.

Which is exactly why this legislation was always going to be bad. Republicans, for utterly mysterious reasons bound up in their supreme indifference to Trump's fate in this year's presidential election, were never going to get behind another major stimulus bill that did not provide things like the massive tax break for corporate meal expenses in the present one. Democrats meanwhile were unwilling to accept anything offering liability protection to businesses that would get in the way of the inevitable feeding frenzy for trial lawyers that everyone expects in the coming months and years. And both parties understood that anything likely to be passed by the Senate in the dead of night on the eve of the congressional Christmas holiday would be a perfect opportunity for other pet projects.

The stimulus bill, which President Trump is likely to sign into law immediately, is the worst of both worlds, what some of us still politely refer to as "bipartisan."

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