Washington partisans are placing big bets on the future of the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats are betting the virus remains at the top of voters’ minds and they will blame Republicans for an anemic response. Republicans are betting the pandemic moves to background as it declines and, if remains a top issue, voters will blame Democrats for not negotiating a legislative response.
The results could dramatically impact voters’ decisions over the 50 days remaining until November 3 (absentee ballots have already been mailed in some states and the first early votes will be cast September 18 in Minnesota).
On an almost party-line vote last week, the Senate failed to advance a Republican $500 billion coronavirus response bill that excluded many Democratic priorities and featured what Democrats called poison pills, such liability exemptions and tax breaks for private-school costs. Republicans said the bill focuses on mutually agreed issues, such as help for small business.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could use the near unanimous caucus support for the Republican plan to broker bipartisan negotiations but has declined to do so. Until McConnell perceives value in deal-making, he will join President Trump in using the vote to blame Democrats, as Democrats are blaming Republicans. If the pandemic worsens, the Democrats are likely to win the argument; if it improves, Republicans will hold a stronger hand.
The President’s response package that bypassed Congress was dealt setbacks last week as his unemployment assistance began running out of money and few employers adopted his payroll tax cut. President Trump also suffered another self-inflicted injury from admitting he downplayed the danger from the virus.
The national Presidential polls continue to show a 7-8 point lead for Joe Biden over President Trump and Electoral College forecasts by the Cook Political Report and others tilt in Biden’s direction.