It’s a start. And it seems less than grateful to say anything other than thanks. After all, a majority of Vermonters will be sent $600 checks beginning as soon as next week. The unemployed will get an extra $300 a week. Small businesses are also in line to get some help to tide them over. States will get some money to help with the distribution of the vaccine. There was a time — right after the election — where it didn’t look like Congress would be able to manage any new stimulus bill, as they were “oceans apart.”
As is normally the case in our politically divided landscape, it takes a hard deadline for the political posturing to stop. And Monday at midnight was that deadline, the point beyond which the government would run out of money to operate.
They got it done, although to the general public the months long process was befitting of an institution that battles with pond water for its public approval numbers. These aren’t the people you’d want on your side in any battle that required leadership, decisiveness or speed.
The stimulus package was something everyone agreed was essential; including the leadership in both parties. Everyone knows the next three to six months will be among the most grim we’ve experienced. But for Congressional Republicans the battle was more about how difficult they could make President-elect Joe Biden’s first couple of months.
But amidst the partisanship, a silver lining emerged. The extremes of both parties were pushed out. The people who made it work were the moderates — a group most thought was politically extinct.
That’s encouraging for two reasons. First, it makes it more likely that the legislation that’s passed over the next two years is fairly reasonable given that the numbers in both the Senate and House are close numerically. Second, it shows that enduring progress only occurs when there is agreement on both sides of the political aisle.
If the Democrats had prevailed in November as they had hoped and Congress had been swept away by the “blue wave” it would be easier for Republicans to sit on their far right perch. If Mr. Trump had won the presidency and had the GOP increased its strength in the Senate and House, then the far left would have become the voice of the Democratic party.
As it stands, the political strength of both parties is split so evenly in Congress that for anything to get done will require the moderates’ touch. From both parties. That also suits Mr. Biden’s style.
The irony is that Mr. Biden has been able to do more from the sidelines to get the stimulus package passed than Mr. Trump. There were three competing parties behind the stimulus proposals: The two trillion dollar proposal from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the cheap version from the far right, and the $900 billion package being pushed by the moderates. Mr. Biden tossed his support toward the Goldilocks version in the middle, applauding Republicans and Democrats alike for working together to get it done.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, finally became part of the solution when it became obvious the moderate version was gaining support, placing his role as party leader in jeopardy. Whereas he had chided the efforts earlier, suddenly the issue became his “five-alarm national crisis.”
The moderates’ path is not an easy way to govern in a politically polarized environment. It means agreeing not to get everything you want, which is chapter and verse how the extremes of both parties conduct themselves. It’s a key reason we are in the position we’re in.
If the process used to get Monday’s stimulus package passed is what we can look forward to as Mr. Biden assumes the presidency, then dare we say the future looks a bit brighter.
By Emerson Lynn