Dec 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Progressives fear false stimulus hope

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A leading progressive is sounding the alarm about an "austerity mindset" inside the Democratic Party, suggesting the biggest stimulus package President-elect Joe Biden gets may come during this lame-duck session of Congress.

Why it matters: Faiz Shakir, a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders and the senator's 2020 campaign manager, says Democrats may be embracing a misguided assumption that Biden will get another bite at the stimulus apple next year. Recent history, he argues, shows that won't be the case — which is partly why Sanders has been pushing for the biggest package possible during current negotiations.

“Before Biden even enters office, Democrats are limiting the ambitions of what we can pass in a COVID relief package, saying it can’t have a ‘t’ in front of it, it shouldn’t be above $1 trillion, with the assumptions that somehow we’re going to have future runs of COVID relief packages to fill in the gaps," Shakir tells Axios.

  • He points to recent talk from moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin, after the West Virginian talked about what could be regained in a hypothetical second round of stimulus talks next year.
  • Shakir, as well as several other top progressives who spoke privately to Axios, said, "We should not assume that."

The case: Shakir points to the economic recovery package that a newly minted President Obama accepted in 2009 while trying to pull the country out of the Great Recession. Progressives like Sanders urged him to think even bigger than the $831 billion bill Obama eventually accepted.

  • The bill passed without a single Republican vote and helped launch the Tea Party movement.
  • Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stared down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats, even as millions of Americans have lost jobs, coronavirus cases and deaths have exploded and relief checks have shrunk from $1,200 to $900 to $600, potentially.

Not thinking big now, Shakir and the other progressives told Axios, suggests "there needs to be a trade-off among the millions of people suffering in the United States. But there is no trade-off when it comes to defense spending. There’s no trade-off when it comes to large corporate tax cuts, no trade-offs there."

  • He warned that mindset could cost Democrats control of the House in the 2022 midterms, should the ultimate recovery package prove too weak.
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