coronavirus stimulus

As the Coronavirus Pandemic Persists, Mitch McConnell’s Senate Dawdles

Mitch is in no hurry to help you. Photo: Getty Images

Back in the days when Donald Trump and many of his gubernatorial allies were rushing to “reopen America” after an eventually unsuccessful effort to stop the coronavirus pandemic with brief half-measures, there was a certain irresponsible logic to Senate Republican talk about a “pause” in federal relief and stimulus measures. Perhaps the earlier assistance would be enough to tide over Americans, their businesses, and their state and local governments until the great economic “comeback” returned life to the old normal. Maybe it was smart to wait and see how much assistance was really necessary before adding new sums to the national debt (not that deficit spending in the middle of a deep recession should really be a problem).

But now the fever dream of a quick and relatively painless recovery from the pandemic and its economic consequences is ending. Speculation about a “second wave” of infections has given way to the realization that the first wave isn’t over. Many states and localities that joined the reopening fever are reconsidering their haste and reversing course. And for Republicans, it’s highly relevant that Red America is getting hit the hardest at this point. The more the pandemic rages, the greater the need for immediate and massive aid to state and local governments who are already beginning to contribute to economic misery via employee layoffs and program cuts — and to the coronavirus itself by efforts to goose revenues by premature laxity in preventive measures. As it becomes obvious the economy is not going to fix itself, the fact that certain steps taken earlier (e.g., the $600-per-week federal unemployment insurance supplement, and an eviction moratorium in federally assisted rental properties) will expire at the end of July should suggest some real urgency in Washington.

Instead, the U.S. Senate has been busily preparing to go on a two-week summer vacation (July 3-17), having refused even to open negotiations with the House, which passed its own next-step coronavirus stimulus bill back in May. Now, finally, Mitch McConnell and his troops are at least contemplating future action, as the Washington Examiner reports:

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after meeting privately with GOP lawmakers Tuesday that the Senate would weigh new federal relief for businesses and individuals in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has been surging in some states.

“We will be putting together a bill when we come back [from the July recess],” said Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Health subcommittee. “So, a month from now, we should be in the final stages of getting that bill together.”

The Senate leaves town for a two-week recess on Thursday and plans to be out of session for most of August, so the measure would be considered in the work period before the August recess, McConnell said.

There’s still no discussion of bipartisan or bicameral negotiations, which means reaching a deal that can pass both houses and secure Donald Trump’s signature between July 17 and August 10 will not — to put it mildly — be easy. At this point, Republicans largely oppose aid to state and local government other than on the smallest scale; want to scale back or kill universal income assistance; and are insisting on a corporate liability shield that is a poison pill for many Democrats. There’s no consensus on whether, and to what extent, a second round of direct assistance to taxpayers might be considered. And as it becomes clearer that the coronavirus is very likely to threaten voting rights in November as it has in the spring and summer primaries, most Republicans are following their president in displaying less than zero interest in federal assistance to make it easier to vote.

Instead of initiating negotiations to accelerate the process, McConnell is already focused on the Senate next summer vacation, notes Politico:

McConnell made it clear Tuesday that the Senate will leave for its scheduled August recess.

“We’re gonna stay on the schedule that I’ve announced earlier in the year, which means we will not be here in August,” McConnell said.

That’s true come hell or high pandemic rates.

As Coronavirus Persists, Mitch McConnell’s Senate Dawdles