Congress is, finally, on the verge of an urgently needed pandemic relief deal for struggling businesses and unemployed workers — and, predictably, Sen. Josh Hawley has moved to throw a wrench in the thing. Missouri's junior senator has implored President Donald Trump to veto any agreement that doesn't contain direct payments like the $1,200 checks that went out to most Americans earlier this year.
Further mucking up the works, Hawley is also encouraging Trump's reckless threat to veto the massive defense authorization bill over the unrelated issue of social-media regulations. These aren't conservative positions from this self-proclaimed conservative, but that doesn't matter if the real priority is populist showboating. Hawley's act is wearing thin.
The potential breakthrough in the pandemic-relief deal comes with no time to spare. Enhanced unemployment benefits that have prevented the economy from completely bottoming out will run dry just after Christmas. With widespread vaccination still months away, this is the time to hunker down, which makes it all the more urgent for Congress to set aside its chronic dysfunction and get a relief package done.
An across-the-board payment to most Americans isn't the worst idea — it certainly buoyed the economy in the last round — but in that round, more than $2 trillion was available. This time, Hawley's fellow Republicans have drawn the line at about $900 billion (Democrats demanded far more). What Hawley is proposing would eat up possibly a third of that. Unemployed workers, small businesses and local governments need to be made whole before money starts going out to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they need it. And the last thing anyone needs is a veto fight that could derail the entire package.
Ironically, Hawley's call for direct payments aligns him with hard-left voices like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. But her support of the idea is consistent with her avowed progressivism. In what way is Hawley's support consistent with his avowed conservatism?
It isn't — nor is his encouragement of Trump's irresponsible veto threat against America's security. Trump wants the defense funding package to include entirely unrelated provisions removing litigation protections from Twitter and other social media that had the gall to call out Trump's lies about election fraud. Hawley is backing Trump's stance. Both of them also have chafed at the bipartisan package's provisions removing Confederate names from U.S. military installations.
So a president and a senator both think the nation's defense isn't as important as making sure the nation continues to venerate the purveyors of slavery and treason?
Widespread pandemic stimulus and Big Tech reform aren't intrinsically bad ideas. But Hawley's approach of pushing for veto confrontations, torquing up the culture wars and playing to the Trumpian fever swamps isn't productive — and isn't meant to be. This kind of populist mischief is unbecoming of any sitting senator, let alone a presidential aspirant.
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