Get all the latest coronavirus news and more daily in your inbox. register here.
They are afraid.
They are afraid for the country. They are afraid for the people they represent. They are afraid of themselves.
There is a reason why a verbal scuffle broke out in the Senate Chamber on Monday afternoon. Senators exchanged barbs and fought vocally as the Senate struggled to approve the latest piece of legislation to combat the coronavirus.
Legislators are stressed about not getting the bill through. They are stressed by their continued presence in the Capitol complex, day after day, night after night. They are worried about converting the place into the legislative equivalent of a daycare center full of contagious toddlers the week after Christmas. Lawmakers are worried about getting sick by lingering in the same marble hallways, the Senate office buildings and the Senate chamber itself.
Spirits soared and senators spit rhetorical venom at each other because anxiety had increased this week. The United States has never really fought an enemy like the coronavirus. The US Capitol is simply a sound stage for American history. It takes place under the Capitol Dome. And that is why such an invective requisitioned the Senate this week.
This is what is happening in the country. There is fear. There is fear. There is a concern. And that is reflected in the US Capitol.
We have representative government.
It has been 25 years since such a grudge oratory took hold of the Senate as of Monday.
You may need to revert to a verbal exchange between former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. And former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, DW.Va. of the balanced budget amendment in 1995 to find such acrimony in the United States Senate.
It is not uncommon for ground fights to take place in the much larger and more rowdy House of Representatives. But things are generally quieter and more polite in the United States Senate.
But it was Congress during the Coronavirus era. That’s why Monday was unique.
The majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Excited House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
“We fiddled!” McConnell accused, angrily hitting Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., across the room.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Prevented Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, from speaking.
“Unbelievable!” said an exasperated Collins, disgusted with the deterioration of decorum.
Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., Chaired part of the verbal scrum from the platform.
“Reserve the right to object!” thundered Schumer.
“There is no right to reserve the right to object!” replied Sasse.
“I have the floor!” said the New York Democrat.
“No, you do not have!” cried Sasse to Schumer.
The senators insulted so loudly in the back of the room that their profanity was broadcast on the Senate video and audio stream.
Senator Doug Jones, D-Ala., The most vulnerable Democrat for re-election in this cycle, sided with the Democrats in a procedural vote Sunday on the Coronavirus bill. Jones was fed up on Monday.
“Do you think it was a good idea for the United States government to see people behaving like a group of gardeners shooting at each other?” Jones asked. “What happened on the US Senate floor earlier today was just plain embarrassing for everyone.”
Perhaps it was inevitable.
Congress is talking a lot about “passing” bills. But there has never been a “pass” bill like this in American history. The measure may prove to be the most important and potentially most crucial legislation in the history of the United States.
At Tuesday’s White House briefing, economic advisor Larry Kudlow described the cost of the phase three coronavirus bill as around $ 6 trillion. Now, to be clear, this is not all new money. Kudlow noted that about $ 4 trillion represents the liquidity measures taken by the Federal Reserve. Part of the money in the law relates to loans. Less than 2,000 billion dollars for “new” money.
But it is still an astounding bill in its raw size.
Consider that Congress approved $ 8.3 billion for the NIH and the CDC in the first phase of the Coronavirus Bill. No one really knows the cost of the coronavirus second response. However, the share of family leave alone costs $ 104 billion. The government spends a grand total of around $ 4.3 trillion each year. More than 70% of this sum is devoted to rights. The balance of $ 1.3 trillion is what Congress allocates each year in its annual appropriation bills. Much of the bill goes to loans and other tax guarantees. But the size of this legislation – coupled with the other two bills – overshadows what Congress spends each year.
Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Reported this week that work is already starting on a phase four bill. Who knows what size it will be.
The Senate hoped to vote on the measure earlier this week. Then Tuesday evening. Then in the day on Wednesday. As we say on Capitol Hill, nothing is decided until everything is decided. Nothing was going to happen before the Senate finally came up with concrete legislation – even though Republican and Democratic leaders of the White House and the Senate announced an agreement in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Legislators and aides have struggled to draft legislation. They did it on the fly – creating monumental arrangements at lightning speed. This is why there were problems in ensuring that the language was correct.
It is now more likely that the House will not touch on the plan until Friday – if not later. Majority House Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Wrote to all members of the House on Wednesday, stating: “I remain committed to giving members of the House 24 hours notice before the House don’t act. “
The House met briefly Wednesday morning for a brief session and immediately resigned. This may seem counterintuitive. But extending this to the House could save time in the long run.
If the Senate was not ready, why should the House get involved? This is the same reason why the Senate cut the city two weeks ago when the House was trying to finalize the phase two coronavirus bill. Calling the House immediately could do more harm than good if the House wanted to act quickly. House leaders on both sides of the aisle take the time to explain the legislation to their respective members to ensure there is buy-in. House Republicans have already signaled a great deal of support for the bill – now boasting of having rejected many of the foreign provisions introduced by Pelosi. And, many important priorities for the Democrats in the House are already hidden in the law. Schumer continued to hire Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at length. Part of Schumer’s negotiations were conducted on behalf of Pelosi. This will make it easier for Pelosi to sell the plan to his caucus.
Passage of the Senate will send a strong signal to the House that the bill is “ok” for members to support it on both sides of the aisle. As we already wrote in this space, remember the old advertisements from Life Cereal. Remember that none of the children would eat the cereal until “Mikey” tried it. After Mikey ate it, all the other kids jumped. Congress works the same way. Once an organization has passed a bill, that law is much more acceptable to the other chamber.
However, we do not know how the House will vote on the measure.
It is unlikely that the House will proceed to a regular roll call vote where they will bring the current 430 members back to the House to vote. There are health risks.
The House and the Senate can approve bills, resolutions and amendments in three ways:
- A regular roll call vote
- A voice vote
- Unanimous consent
None of these methods are strange or bizarre. The House and the Senate pass and undo objects all the time via the three methods. But the question is whether the House and the Senate should vote on arguably the largest bill in American history without a regular recorded vote.
Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Argued that he might prefer to have the House approve the bill by voice vote. This is where everyone in the room (probably a smaller group) yells yes and those who oppose no. The strongest side wins. In this way, those who want to at least introduce themselves can say that they have tried to oppose the measure. The speaker who presides over the room decides which side is the loudest.
Interestingly, McCarthy said the Senate should have approved the bill a few days ago, criticizing the Democrats. But McCarthy lobbied for at least a day’s break so the House could review the plan.
There is also dismay at the length of the process. McConnell introduced the original version of this bill in the middle of last week. A bicameral legislative process involving up to 535 people was not designed for speed. What you are witnessing is that Congress is moving as quickly as possible: it is drafting a gigantic bill. Obtaining triple approval of the House under democratic control, the Senate under republican control and the White House under republican control. Then, by running all the parliamentary traps necessary to advance the package not one but two chambers of Congress.
And that’s why things are so tense. There is pressure. There is fear. There is an alarm.
Not just across the country. But inside the walls of the US Capitol.