Budowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit
President Joe Biden should treat COVID-19 and the extreme economic damage caused by it as a national state of emergency — and move quickly to a historic state of emergency summit with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to determine whether there is real potential for genuine bipartisan action to address the crisis.
Regarding the $1.9 trillion package that Biden has proposed to dramatically escalate the medical war against COVID-19 and dramatically strengthen the national economy, Biden and congressional Democrats have three legislative options:
Option 1, the preferred option if possible, would involve traditional bipartisan legislation through broad agreement between the parties. It might be possible to lower the cost by setting a bipartisan-agreed limit to guarantee that higher wealth individuals do not receive benefits they do not need, while keeping highly popular and urgently needed relief for Americans who voted for both Biden and Donald Trump.
Option 2, if Republicans oppose and filibuster a program similar to Biden’s, would be to seek unified Democratic support to require a majority of senators, not 60 Senate votes, to pass it.
Option 3, which would be procedurally limited, would be to enact major portions of Biden’s proposal using majority vote procedures of budget reconciliation rules.
Biden needs to know, very soon, how far McConnell would go to achieve bipartisan unity. My view is that the odds McConnell rises above partisanship are far lower than Biden seems to believe, but McConnell should be offered a fair opportunity to not play the “grim reaper” with non-stop filibusters on matters of life, death and ending economic pain that the American people want and need.
With medical authorities warning COVID-19 deaths will soon reach 500,000, and legislative action urgently needed, Biden needs a clear, accurate understanding of whether or not McConnell has legitimately bipartisan intentions.
Biden should also have a private discussion with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who may be the most powerful senator in Washington, to determine whether Manchin would counter potential obstruction by McConnell with selective votes to require a majority, not 60 votes, to enact emergency legislation. This would strengthen Biden in discussions with McConnell and make bipartisan legislation more likely, not less.
Let’s be clear: America faces state of emergency dangers. Legislative action is urgently need with the COVID-19 death toll rising to 500,000 and higher, vaccine supplies disastrously low, the weak economy further slowing down again and economic hardship severe and still rising.
Today America and the world face an extreme shortage of vaccine while the virus is mutating rapidly, including British and South African mutations that are far more contagious and probably more deadly than the original COVID-19. Vaccine production and distribution must be aggressively, dramatically and expeditiously increased NOW, above current levels.
I disagree with Biden’s pledges to vaccinate 1 million Americans a day, which was already achieved when he took office, and to vaccinate100 million Americans in his first hundred days, which falls far short of what is urgently required.
Weeks ago I privately suggested to the Biden transition and some Democrats close to Biden that he name retired Admiral William McRaven, or someone similar, to take charge of the operational logistics that have been disastrously mismanaged.
I had hoped that by now, Biden would have had a state of emergency Zoom conference with the CEO’s of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson, which should soon have an approved vaccine, to determine how far and fast production could be increased.
State of emergency meetings would be followed by a televised address to the nation, including a presidential statement of exactly how the Defense Production Act would be employed to dramatically increase vaccine production, and a call for national support for his preferably bipartisan medical and economic growth proposals.
President Biden has the high ground of bipartisanship with the American people. Biden — and all Americans — need to know whether or not Senate Minority Leader McConnell will join him there, in good faith.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.