In response to COVID 19, much of America practically shut down for much of 2020. Many Americans lost their jobs, particularly in the hospitality and restaurant industries. Congress passed a few bills intending to funnel stimulus money as a lifeline to these economically vulnerable Americans. But as the second wave of extreme closures hit parts of America during the holiday season, such payments from Uncle Sam to stem the financial pain are critical.
The fourth COVID stimulus were held up by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for admittedly partisan reasons. Prior to the election, Pelosi demanded $2.5 trillion legislation, which included bailouts of states with underfunded extravagant public pensions. The Trump White House proposed a $1.6 trillion plan but was willing to increase it to $2 trillion to meet Democrats half way. Still, Pelosi was intransigent until it appeared that Joe Biden (D-DE) was the presumptive President-elect. So Congressional Democrats only got serious about another COVID stimulus bill until the December rush from Capitol Hill to be home for Christmas
Lame Duck Congress sessions after an election often take a devil may care attitude since the scrutiny of the ballot box won't happen for another two years and some members are not returning to Capitol Hill.
The Lame Duck 116th Congress was tasked with passing tardy spending bills which were supposed to have been finalized by the end of the Fiscal Year (September 30th). It seems that the plan from leadership of both parties was to pass a couple of stop gap Federal Spending Bills to buy time from a government shutdown, then rush to pass an $2.3 Trillion Omnibus Appropriation Bill that is a Christmas Tree, meaning that there were all sorts of decoration of ancillary legislation which becomes a must pass bill.
To add to the Slapdash Santa spirit, the powers that be agreed to pass a "skinny" COVID stimulus bill of ONLY $900 million of deficit spending, which earmarked a $600 check to Americans earning less than $75,000. Considering the financial insecurity of many Americans due to COVID, the Christmas rush when it was expected that people would not focus on the goings of Swamp City and the desire for President Trump to mitigate damage to his legacy, this must pass bill was expected to go through..
There were two flaws to this legislative strategy. While Congress only had a few hours to review a five thousand page bit of legislation before passage, the details started to leak out. Social media balked when it was discovered that only $190 million the the $900 million is set to go to needy Americans. The rest of it was a pork Christmas tree, with expenditures for earmarks like $25 million to Pakistan for gender studies, funding for an American Womens' History Museum and an American Latino Museum on the National Mall, and nearly $90 million for Senate building maintenance. This raised the rankles of an already agitated American public. The House passed the combined COVID Relief package and Consolidated Appropriations measure (HR 133) by a 359-53 margin and the Senate passed the measure 92-6
The other thing impeding the typical jamming through pork barrel at the end of the year when people won't notice involves the 45th President. President Donald Trump deems himself a disruptor from the swampy ways of the Deep State. Even though the mainstream media has been parsing precious little time to President Trump since after the election, the Disrupter -in-Chief leveraged his social media skills to distribute a viral video.
President Trump demanded that every American ought to get a $2,000 stimulus check and the bill sent to him should be stripped of the other pork barrel legislation. Trump intimated that he may not sign the tripe bill that was sent to him. Since Congress procrastinated to nearly the end of the 116th Congress, the President could have a pocket veto--meaning that by doing nothing (keeping it in his pocket) that the legislation fails.
This puts Congress in a perilous situation. They recognize that there constituents are really hurting and they will lose confidence in them if they fail on a stimulus, especially when their prior bill was laden with wasteful pork barrel projects that have nothing to do with COVID. While the Comprehensive COVID Stimulus and Appropriations legislation passed by veto proof majorities, a pocket veto does not require resubmission to Congress. They let legislative time effectively run out for the customary rule of legislation.
The second problem is timing. The Continuing Resolution only funds the government until December 28th. So if President Trump fails to sign HR 133 and uses a pocket veto, then there will be a government shutdown. Congress may well get the blame for pushing pork barrel pet projects and giving taxpayers a pittance whereas the President wants to give every American adult $2,000. To avoid a pocket-veto, they would have to stay in session during the week between Christmas and New Years Day. And they could not easily do pro forma sessions because the Spending Continuing Resolution expires on December 28th.
A third issue is populist agitation. When the 117th Congress convenes on January 6th, they are supposed to certify the Electoral College results. Since President Trump is positioning his Congressional forces to contest some of the election irregularities in several battleground states. In conjunction with the Congressional vote, President Trump has called for a rally which he promised will be wild. Imagine the animus of a large group of "deplorables" against elected officials who won't "Stop the Steal", but due to their greed and indolence are holding back significant COVID relief packages for ordinary Americans.
It is unclear if and when additional COVID relief payments are doled out, as well as the fate of contested election. But because of lame ducks, Christmas trees and pocket vetoes, the next few weeks in Washington won't be as the Establishment had planned.