Cathy McMorris Rodgers (CMR) and Dave Wilson, candidates for Congressional District 5 (comprising most of the ten easternmost counties of Washington State), participated in a debate on the local public television station, KSPS, last Monday, October 19. The questioners were Kip Hill, reporter for the Spokesman, and Doug Navornick, reporter and community stalwart whose voice I often hear on local public radio, KPBX. It was live-streamed on youtube, where you can still watch it.
The exchange reminded me why many of us campaigned so hard for Lisa Brown to unseat McMorris Rodgers in 2018. If we send her back to Washington in 2021 she will once again be in the minority in the U.S. House. There she can continue making well worn and discredited statements like she did in the debate. According to McMorris Rodgers the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Republican tax giveaway to corporations and the rich, is still her party’s miracle legislation that provided “well-paying jobs for hard-working Americans.”
The first question in the debate was from Doug Nadvornick, “If you were to draw up a coronavirus relief proposal what would be the essential elements and what would you leave out?” First, McMorris Rodgers highlighted the prompt passage in March, 2020, of the CARES Act. Then she proclaimed: “I DO believe that we need an additional corona relief package…As far as the priorities that I hear I think at the top of the list is the liability protection that businesses and hospitals, ah, schools need because there’s a growing number of lawsuits….” I thought my head would explode.
Cathy, the country is hurting. We are facing the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Many people face eviction and food shortages, and your and your Party’s priority is liability protection for businesses?? Liability protection for businesses is the primary Republican talking point (after blaming Democrats) for holding up another coronavirus relief bill, a bill that even the Trump-appointed head of the Federal Reserve advocates? As Dave Wilson pointed out, the people (and the economy) need financial relief now. Cathy’s priority is protecting businesses (with hospitals and “schools” as an afterthought) from lawsuits that will be filed later, work through the courts over years, and face a business-friendly appellate judiciary her Republican Senate minority (representing a minority of the population) has packed thanks to McConnell’s slimy political maneuvering. Cathy, your priorities are pathologically warped. You and your Party are not the adults in the room.
Let’s examine the legislative history of coronavirus relief. It is true that the House and Senate passed and Mr. Trump signed the CARES Act, H.R. 748 (the “engrossed bill”), into law in March. McMorris Rodgers had no hand in writing it. The bill was written by Mitch McConnell and his minions in the Senate in consultation with the White House. Surprised? I was. The House of Representative, we are taught by McMorris Rodgers and others, holds the “power of the purse”, the House is where spending bills are supposed to originate. The Senate circumvented that Constitutional mandate by “repurposing” a House Bill, H.R. 748, that was introduced long before the pandemic. The original H.R. 748 was a minor spending bill with broad House support. It dealt with a change in excise tax treatment of employer sponsored health insurance. H.R. 478 passed the House in July 2019 and then lay dormant (while McConnell worked to pack the judiciary) until March 20, 2020. H.R. 748 was then repurposed, i.e. completely rewritten, into the CARES Act by McConnell’s folks in consultation with the White House.
I cannot say how often this workaround is used so that the Senate (and whoever controls it) can make a mockery of the Constitutional “power of the purse,” but it was an eye-opener to me. Mitch McConnell is a U.S. Senator representing the 4.5 million people of the state of Kentucky (U.S. population is around 320 million). McConnell sits at the head of the “majority” Republicans of a Senate who represent, in aggregate, a minority of the population of the United States. In spite of the tiny electorate to which he answers, McConnell is a man of immense power. He is the actual holder of “the power of the purse.”
The CARES Act (still labelled as H.R. 748) was passed on a voice vote both in the Senate and later in the House when it returned there for final passage to become the “engrossed bill” signed into law by the president. There was no notable dissent in either party, since it didn’t contain a poison pill like the “liability protection” McMorris Rodgers now offers as the main priority to be considered before any further relief.
Apparently, now the word has come down from the business interests that fund the Republican Party: “You will delay any additional coronavirus relief. Your talking point here (after first blaming Democrats) is to highlight the terrible lawyers and the lawsuits they’ll bring against us (for things like our negligence in getting workers infected and killed by coronavirus in our meatpacking plants).”
McMorris Rodgers says with conviction in the debate, “I DO believe that we need an additional corona relief package,” but she, along with her lock-step Republican colleagues, voted against the second relief package, the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), passed by the House on May 15, 2020. McConnell, arguably the most powerful person in the U.S. government, a man directly representing a tiny minority of Americans, has announced that further stimulus is dead on arrival in the Senate. McConnell, of course, only has to answer to his corporate backers and the Fox News listeners of the State of Kentucky.
McMorris Rodgers’ only function is to serve as a mouthpiece for Republican select and powerful business interests and a distinct minority of American voters. Dave Wilson would make a far better Representative.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. For many years I tried not to look too hard at politics. I justified not paying much attention by leaning on the old saying, “to retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” I was wrong. We are governed by laws. If we look away from the process of making law we will empower a few people with questionable allegiances to control our lives, people like Mitch McConnell. On the other hand, if we each tried to master all the details of legislation none of us would have time to do anything else. That’s why we elect people to represent us in city, county, state, and federal governments. When the people holding office swing too far in one direction, when they get out of step, when they hold up consideration of needed legislation on the grounds that what is really needed is “liability protection” for business, then it is time to vote them out.
P.P.S. One last comment: the sausage that McConnell and his minions wrote into the CARES Act is grossly partisan as well. The 2.2 trillion dollar act is 300 pages long and contains abundant opportunities to “pick winners and losers.” Here’s one “small” example of the partisanship: 274 billion (1/8 of the total) was earmarked for distribution to state and local governments for “Covid-19 response.” Logically, the money would be doled out to the states on a per capita basis. That would work out to roughly $856 per person. But, no, McConnell and company, representing states of small population, inserted a zinger: the minimum amount a state was to be allotted was 1.25 billion. The result? Wyoming (population 600,000) received $2083/person, a major windfall to a state, which, at the time, was barely touched by Covid-19. In contrast, California (population 39,500,000) ravaged by Covid-19 at the time, received $388/person. [The rules under which these funds were distributed were even more complicated, although the net distributions were as I wrote. The rules and actual amounts are detailed here.] My curiosity about these details was first piqued by an article noting that Idaho, with an annual state budge of less than 4 billion was in pretty good fiscal shape after receiving 1.25 billion in covid-19 relief funds (more than a quarter of its annual budget). At the same time I noted that Washington State was struggling with a budget shortfall in spite of receiving $2,952,933,375 in Covid-19 relief. Washington State has 4.2 times the population of Idaho and received only 2.7 times the relief funds. What was wrong with this picture?