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It’s been months since fiscal relief for American workers, businesses and families has run out. Yet the economic downturn tied to the coronavirus pandemic continues and is predicted to worsen.
Meanwhile, Congress and the White House have failed to agree on the details of another relief package. This is unconscionable as the American people and businesses face a potential winter of hardship.
Much of the blame lies with Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and particularly Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has stalled action on meaningful relief bills.
The U.S. House, led by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi, passed a $3 trillion aid package in May. Over the summer, Senate Republicans talked about various, much smaller, aid packages but a comprehensive relief bill did not materialize.
More recently, the House passed a pared down bill, with a $2 trillion price tag. President Donald Trump, after calling for an end to negotiations, said recently that he would support spending even more than Democrats have proposed.
“I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats,” he told Fox and Friends earlier this week. “Not every Republican agrees, but they will. I want to do it even bigger, because this is money going to people who did not deserve what happened to them.”
While Democratic leaders and White House officials are continuing to negotiate around a $1.8 trillion plan, the Senate has focused on smaller bills aimed mostly at helping businesses.
While additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a successful business loan program championed by Sen. Susan Collins, is crucial, businesses are not the only entities that need help.
Research has shown that enhanced unemployment payments — like the $600 a week in additional benefits that expired this summer — and payments directly to Americans will stimulate the economy while improving the lives of many workers and their families.
States, cities, countries and tribal governments also need assistance as they struggle to continue to provide services while revenues have declined. Only Congress has the capacity to provide the level of fiscal assistance that is needed.
McConnell this week has held votes on a $500 billion plan to replenish the PPP program and on a slimmed down relief bill. These bills are inadequate to the scope of the ongoing economic and health crisis and were rightly rejected.
It is easy to condemn Democrats for voting against these bills, but that is only part of the story. If these skinny relief bills were passed, there would likely be no hope of passing broader legislation to extend help to American families, workers, businesses and local governments.
So, forcing continued negotiations is a prudent step even as the window for negotiations appears to be closing.
“It is tempting to vote yes and do a little good, but I fear that my GOP colleagues would view this as a checking of a box, and argue that no further relief is required,” Sen. Angus King said in a statement on Wednesday after a slim relief bill failed to get enough votes to pass the Senate. “Nothing would be further from the truth — for the sake of millions of Americans across the nation, we need a better bill.”
It is far past time for lawmakers, especially Mitch McConnell, to set politics aside and to focus on writing and passing a relief bill that will benefit the many American people and businesses that are struggling to get through the pandemic and its economic downturn.