White House’s line on economic aid descends deeper into incoherence

It was six days ago when Donald Trump, after weeks of confusing and contradictory messages, announced that he was pulling the plug on bipartisan talks on an economic aid package. White House officials said the process was over and negotiations would not begin anew before the elections.

It was four days ago when the president, realizing he’d “messed up tactically,” began calling for renewed talks on economic aid.

And it was three days ago when Trump told Rush Limbaugh that his newest position was the opposite of the one he’d held earlier in the week.

“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package than, frankly, either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering,” Trump said on an appearance of the Rush Limbaugh Show on Friday, acknowledging it was “the exact opposite” of his initial demands.

I realize that the president doesn’t generally keep up on current events, but when he mentioned the package “Republicans are offering,” he was referring to the proposal floated by his own White House. It’s his own team that’s responsible for making the “offer,” which in turn created an awkward dynamic: Trump effectively told Limbaugh that he’s against Team Trump’s plan.

While the president was delivering that message, his team was extending a new pitch to congressional Democrats: a $1.8 trillion aid package, well below the $2.4 trillion package House Democrats recently approved, and roughly half the $3.4 trillion proposal Democrats pushed several months ago.

Trump told Fox News yesterday that GOP lawmakers are fully on board with the $1.8 trillion offer. That wasn’t even close to being true: Senate Republicans actually wasted little time letting the White House know they’re staunchly opposed to the latest proposal, as are House Democrats. In fact, if Trump’s comments to Limbaugh were sincere, even he’s against his own White House plan.

If this is all starting to sound like an incoherent mess, it’s not your imagination. The Tax Policy Center’s Renu Zaretsky explained this morning, “In just the past week, Trump has said he wants a big bill, then no bill, then a small bill, then a $1.8 trillion bill, and now, perhaps, an even bigger bill than that. Or not.”

Meanwhile, Larry Kudlow, the top economics voice in the White House, told CNN yesterday that Trump is prepared to accept a deal worth more than $2.2 trillion — effectively killing the $1.8 trillion offer the White House extended on Friday — even as GOP senators tell anyone who’ll listen they want the administration to move in the opposite direction.

Many Americans are wondering if a much-needed economic lifeline is on the way. Alas, I think they should keep their expectations low.

Postscript: Senate Republicans also reportedly complained to the White House on Saturday that Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell “had gone too far in demanding Congress approve sweeping economic relief and that he went out of his lane in making his demands publicly known.”

It’s an odd thing to complain about: Republican senators don’t want to give the economy a boost, and they don’t want Trump’s hand-picked Fed chair to bother them with accurate information on giving the economy a boost?

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