South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)
The winter of suffering MitchMcConnell has created
Ifwe can’t get aCOVID-19 relief package through Congress in the nextweek or two, we’re sunk. It meanswe have a legislative branch so ideologically divided it can’t address even ourmost glaring problems. It meanswe have representatives so lacking in the willingness and ability to compromise that minimally competent government will be impossible, even under a President Joe Biden.
The problems a basic relief measure would address couldn’t be more obvious. Under current law, up to 12 million Americans could lose their jobless benefits by year’s end— awretched Christmastime for millions of families, which could spawn awave of depression, morbidity, family breakdownand suicide.
Millions of people could be evicted from their homes. Thousands more businesses may close during the long wintermonths before a vaccine is widely available. These are not failing, unproductive businesses. These are good, strong businesses that would have provided jobs and opportunity for millions of Americans for decades if they hadn’t been hit by the pandemic.
WendyEdelberg of theHamilton Project calculates that if nothing passes, theU.S. economy will be $1 trillion smaller in 2021 and $500 billion smaller in 2022.
The means to prevent this suffering are also glaringly obvious. We did it less than a year ago with the coronavirus relief bill. All we have to do is pass a version of whatwe did before. Howhard can this possibly be?
The $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill was one of themost successful pieces of legislation of modern times. Because of the lockdowns, U.S. economic output contracted by a horrific9% in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the first quarter. But because of the coronavirus relief bill, disposable household incomes increased by 10%. The personal savings rate increased by34% inApril.
I don’t love big government, but government is supposed to step up in a crisis, and with the coronavirus relief bill, it did.
Since summer, as the economy has deteriorated, Congress has been gridlocked on howto pass a supplemental relief package. At timesNancy Pelosi has been rigidly uncompromising, as if notwanting to handDonaldTrump a victory. But the core problem is thatRepublicans have applied a dogmatically ideological approach to a situation in which it is not germane and is in fact ruthlessly destructive.
SomeRepublicans act as if this is a normal recession and the legislation in front of them is a conventionalKeynesian stimulus bill. But this is not a normal recession. It’s a natural disaster.
I agree with JanetYellen, Biden’s choice forTreasury secretary, whosaid, “The U.S. debt path is completely unsustainable under current tax and spending plans.” But that concern is for another day. Right now, we need to protect theworkers and businesses that generatewealth in this society.
The 2020 election results have powerfully strengthened moderates. After months of gridlock, themoderates took charge lastweek, crafting a bipartisan $908 billion relief compromise. Led by Sens. SusanCollins, JoeManchin, MittRomney andMarkWarner and endorsed by a bipartisan group ofHouse members fromthe
Problem Solvers Caucus, it is big enough tomake a real difference and includes two thorny issues: aid to the states and liability protection, which should be in the law.
To their credit, Pelosi and Chuck Schumer embraced the framework. Mitch McConnellwent on the Senate floor Thursday, pretended to soften, ignored the compromise and did notmove an inch.
McConnellmay think the Democrats will eventually come to him because something is better than nothing. But his proposal cannot pass. Democrats in the House will not accept a complete capitulation toMcConnell on every front.
Talks between the moderates and McConnell continue. But ifMcConnell won’t do a deal now, there certainlywon’t be one with more controversial issues under a Democratic president in 2021. If we don’t see aCOVID-19 relief measure pass in the nextweek or two, then our democracy is existentially broken. If that happens, McConnell should spend Christmas with people thrown out ofwork and witness the suffering he has caused.