McConnell's lame duck Senate sees no need to get much done

It’s business as usual for the McConnell boys — no COVID relief, but gotta save those Confederate military bases

Published December 5, 2020 5:00AM (EST)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)  (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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Senate Republicans have a last chance as lame-duckers to do a few right things in what lines up to be a slapdash race for the holiday door.  Personally, I don't have much hope for the ideologues to rise up to put the country over party, but hey, surprises happen.

This Congress started its last 10 days before holiday break yesterday with coronavirus aid hanging, with a federal budget unresolved, and a bunch of contentious issues that include selling more weapons overseas.

Obviously, the session gets underway as Donald Trump continues his fantasy about overturning election results in this same period, in which a transition must move ahead and amid a spiraling, out-of-control virus is killing 2,000 people a day.

Yet, from a policy point of view, it is unclear that Republicans acknowledge that millions are facing eviction as the clock has run out of individual aid and blanket rules to postpone rent payments, and it is unclear whether both personal piques of particular senators and the overall desire by Trump to burn down the government can and will be set aside for greater societal good.

Senators like James Inhofe of Oklahoma want to hold up the federal budget over whether the Pentagon can change the name of military bases that still carry the name of Confederate generals. Really? This is the most important issue facing us? Trump is reportedly considering a veto if the budget measure doesn't repeal legal shields for social media companies.

Can we please keep our collective eyes on the ball?

Insisting on partisan ways

Republicans are fond of saying that elections have consequences – unless elections do not go their way.  Then we are supposed to ignore the results, or switch back to defending deficits from getting too large, or, like Trump, simply deny that the election took place.

Apparently, a number of Republicans in the Senate are more interested in their hobby-horse issues than in addressing the coronavirus elephant in the room. The Number One issue facing us is getting sufficient monies to individuals displaced by the virus from their jobs, to extend unemployment, to help small businesses survive during this period, and to assure that we can adequately distribute the emerging vaccines.

Republicans have been sitting on a House-passed package since the summer, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrongly insisting that an economic recovery is just days away, despite the pandemic. Partisan debate has swirled around the size of the package, with each side saying that it has been more flexible.

Meanwhile, the country is suffering. The issue feels like the embodiment of why increasing numbers of Americans just don't believe in government.

If you're looking for a second issue, agreement on a federal budget that just allows us to keep things functioning seems an important goal.

The other agendas

But among the things that stand in the way:

  • A decision on approving the sale to the United Arab Emirates of up to 50 F-35s worth $10.4 billion, up to 18 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions worth $10 billion. A simple majority vote would start a 30-day review period in which Congress can block the sale.
  • Consideration of a late appointment by Trump of Judy Shelton, who has advocated that the United States return its monetary policies to debunked reliance on the value of gold, to the Federal Reserve. An earlier committee vote failed, and the expected addition of newly elected Sen. Mark Kelly, the Democrat from Arizona, should make that issue a loser.

In general, expect these days to be a forerunner to judge Senate willingness – or not – to work with the incoming Biden administration. All Senate eyes continue to focus solely on the Jan. 5 twin U.S. Senate races in Georgia, the outcome of which will decide whether we continue to have a Republican majority.

In any case, neither party will have sufficient votes to ignore the other.

The question is whether we have civility and compromise or continue the Trump-inspired divisions of the past several years.

By Terry H. Schwadron

MORE FROM Terry H. Schwadron

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Commentary Dcreport Mitch Mcconnell U.s. Senate