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The Dems’ Christmas-tree bailout pitch isn’t going anywhere, but tells us a lot about what we might be headed for.

As congressional leaders haggled over a $2 trillion emergency economic relief bill on Tuesday, President Donald Trump mocked House Democrats for stuffing their own rescue proposal with priorities unrelated to the coronavirus crisis—especially one priority he famously hates.

“They had things in there that were terrible,” Trump complained during his virtual town hall on Fox News.

“Windmills all over the place, all sorts of credits for windmills!”

In fairness to the Democrats, their 1,400-page draft had nothing about windmills. But in fairness to Trump, windmills were among the few Democratic priorities that didn’t appear in the “Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act” that the House floated Monday night. The proposal did include extra funding for workers and families, but also for Supplemental Dairy Margin Coverage, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—even though the Kennedy Center is closed—and hundreds of other government programs and services unrelated to the emergency.

Congressional leaders didn’t use the House draft as the basis for the stimulus deal they struck early Wednesday morning, but they did fund quite a few of its provisions—from modest items with little connection to the pandemic, like $12.5 million for the Bureau of Reclamation or $25 million for the Kennedy Center, to $25 billion for ravaged transit agencies. And Congress is expected to pass more stimulus bills in the coming months, so the House proposal still bears a very close look as a preview of how Democrats plan to use their leverage. It also gives Republicans some talking points about the random taxpayer-funded goodies their opponents are pushing during a crisis.

What’s in it? Even though airports are virtually empty, and the Transportation Security Administration has never had less to do, the Democrats proposed $26 million for overtime for TSA employees. They also slipped in $20 million to help the TSA to buy new swabs for detecting explosives, a worthy security measure that lacks any apparent connection to the pandemic, $31 million for “bio-surveillance of wildlife,” and $45 million to help the Agricultural Marketing Service grade commodities like beef, eggs and, well, pork.

Agricultural anything tends to attract bipartisan support, and the final stimulus deal included that entire $45 million request. But suffice to say that if Christmas trees were graded, the House’s draft would be USDA Prime, while the final deal would probably be closer to U.S. Standard. And in an economic crisis, congressional grab bags can be politically toxic. Read more

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