While congressional attention has been diverted to a Supreme Court nominee, lawmakers have failed to pass a needed coronavirus relief package. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite | BDN

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Attention in Congress, it feels, has turned toward President Donald Trump’s expected nomination of someone to fill the vacancy filled by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died just last week.

Only the Senate plays a role in federal judicial nominations. And, in the early days, just the Senate Judiciary Committee will be busy with potential hearings on a nominee.

That leaves plenty of time and energy for a coronavirus relief package that is desperately needed by American people and businesses.

As the coronavirus pandemic enters its seventh month — and the U.S. surpasses more than 200,000 deaths from the virus — more than 26 million Americans remain out of work, businesses are tilting toward closing and economists warn that the country is headed toward a recession without intervention from Congress.

The Washington Post surveyed 25 economists this summer. Twenty said Congress should pass a stimulus of $2 trillion or more. The others, mostly conservative economists, agreed that Congress needs to act by mid-August but favored a roughly $1 trillion package, the paper reported.

Yet, Congress has failed to act and is at a stalemate over another relief package for American families and businesses.

The House passed a $3 trillion bill, the HEROES Act, in May. A much smaller and insufficient Senate Republican plan, which wasn’t even as large as a previous proposal from Senate Republicans and had no chance of passing, was ultimately and expectedly blocked by Democrats earlier this month. There has been no progress since then.

Rep. Jared Golden, along with the Problem Solvers Caucus — a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats — has offered a middle ground approach.

Their $1.5 trillion proposal includes another round of $1,200 checks for many American households, enhanced unemployment benefits, rental assistance, additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and $500 billion for state and local aid.

The group presented their proposal as a framework for further negotiations in the House and Senate. That gives both House and Senate leadership, Democrats and Republicans, a solid basis from which to find a compromise.

We worry that some elements of the proposal — especially the help for cities and states — is too small. But, what is important is that lawmakers get serious about finalizing a relief bill that helps those Americans who need it most and that can be passed quickly in both the House and Senate. The final details remain to be negotiated. What should not be negotiable is that this work be a priority now, before further economic damage is done.

Golden is also leading an effort to press House leadership to keep lawmakers in Washington until a deal is reached, a long shot as members of Congress are eager to get home to campaign before the Nov. 3 election.

As Golden and 33 of his Democratic House colleagues note, this is the wrong priority.

“Our constituents do not want us home campaigning while businesses continue to shutter, families struggle to pay the bills, food bank lines lengthen, schools struggle to reopen, pressures grow on hospital systems, and state and local budget shortfalls mean communities consider layoffs for first responders and teachers. These hardships are growing with every passing week,” Golden and 33 other Democratic representatives wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy this week.

“Our constituents’ expectations in the midst of this crisis are that we not only rise to the occasion and stay at the table until we have delivered the relief they so desperately need, but also that we set aside electoral politics and place the needs of the country before any one region, faction, or political party,” they said in the letter.

Given the dysfunction in the Capitol, this may seem optimistic. But, we too hope that congressional leaders will put the interests of the American people first. While focus may have shifted to the Supreme Court vacancy fight, that doesn’t change the fact that, right now, American families and businesses need help to get through the ongoing pandemic.

The BDN Editorial Board

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...