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With all the loose talk about negotiations over the next stimulus package, I am compelled to rise in defense of Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi. This is a new role for me. She is getting grief from the so-called Problem Solvers’ Caucus in the House and that nitwit, Andrew Yang. Rep. Ro Khanna, of whom I think well, has also brought some shade. The question has blown up in recent days after an interview Pelosi did with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

The short and inadequate summary of this debate is that the Administration has offered a $1.8 trillion relief package, in response to the Democrats’ proposal for a somewhat higher number. People hampered by low information, such as Blitzer, can’t really evaluate either proposal because they have no clue as to the contents of either proposal. In the interview, Blitzer just kept repeating “$1.8 trillion” as if he had an actual argument. He does not. The government does not necessarily solve problems by spending money. It matters how it is spent.

The conservative bias against the public sector is to apply reductionist criteria to policy. In this case, we are asked to fixate on the total ‘headline’ number in a proposal, or to elevate sending cash to individuals as the be-all and end-all of public policy. Even then, it matters how much cash, and to whom. From a radical standpoint, this is commodification writ large. Even from a mainstream economic standpoint, cash assistance is not a substitute for public services. In particular, we need money spent on services to deal with the pandemic, and we need aid to state and local governments, so that they can maintain the services that make civilized life possible.

The reductionist frame for stimulus is being championed by the right wing of the House Democratic Caucus, the aforementioned ‘problem solvers.’ This caucus consists of both Democrats and Republicans and thrives on the bogus polarization frame of U.S. politics: why or why can’t ‘both sides’ get together and get things done? The simple answer is that one side is deeply insane. A massive rebuke at the polls next month might bring some of them back to Earth, or it may simply shrink the Republicans in Congress to a more intransigent, hard core. That is a problem for later.

Blitzer accused Pelosi of being narrowly concerned with denying Trump any possible boost to his campaign. A compromise would give the stock market a bump up and provide a political win for Trump, but it is too late for the money to have any political effect on the ground before November 3. Even so, there is a case for denying Trump any such benefit, because he is the most awful president ever, remember?

It can also be said that Pelosi has the leverage. It’s a curious progressive critique to fault a Democratic leader for failing to exploit any such leverage. The criticism from the “problem solvers” makes more sense. The problem they are dedicated to solving, including a Member in my own state of Virginia named Abigail Spanberger (a former CIA agent), is getting elected in Trump-friendly districts.

Blitzer’s elementary-school understanding of politics, besides the implied, bogus “gridlock” idea, neglects the fact that there is no reason to think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would let any compromise measure to come up for a vote in the Senate. Arguably, Mitch is looking past the impending defeat next month to considering how to sabotage a Biden Administration. Blocking stimulus now or before January 20 is one way to do that. Blitzer also asked, without embarrassment, why Pelosi didn’t call up the president and do the deal. Trump doesn’t operate that way. He doesn’t do things. He tweets.

I’ve never had much use for Pelosi. She’s a skilled legislative operator but has no policy vision. She needs a president to follow. In this case, however, grounds for criticism from the outside seem notably thin. Unless you can read minds, you don’t know the details of what is at issue in the negotiations. My guess is that the Democratic bill reflects a constructive use of funds, while the Republican proposals are a pile of stinking monkey crap. Which side are you on?

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