McConnell is holding COVID-19 relief hostage to Trump's agenda — as usual

McConnell is holding COVID-19 relief hostage to Trump's agenda — as usual
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Bowing to inevitability, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally acknowledged that coronavirus relief thus far has been inadequate in helping some of the people who need it most. He's leaving the door open in the next round of funding for more direct payments, but only to lower-income families.

At home in Kentucky this week, McConnell visited a hospital in Bardstown, where he said that the "people who have been hit the hardest are people who make $40,000 a year or less. Many of them work in the hospitality industry," and that's where he wants aid targeted. He's also indicating new openness to more aid to state and local governments, a massive priority for everyone but him so far. He pointed to the $150 billion in direct aid to states that was in the CARES package, funding that couldn't go to replace lost revenue in the states and cities, revenue that does things like pay public employees, including teachers, and funds emergency services. All this aid, he remains adamant, will depend on Congress passing liability protections for businesses and schools, saying that "unless grossly negligent or intentionally engaged in harmful behavior," entities that prematurely reopen would be shielded from lawsuits retroactive to December 2019 and through 2024. Which means he's with Trump in insisting that it's time everything, including schools reopen, and thus is not going to allow enough funding for people to safely stay at home.

McConnell is insisting that no more than $1 trillion be included in this bill, bring the totality of spending by Congress in coronavirus relief to around $6 trillion, though the Federal Reserve, a raft of economists, and the Congressional Budget Office say much, much more will be needed to allow the economy to rebound if/when the crisis ever passes. The CBO projects $16 trillion in losses to the economy over the next decade, which could prove an underestimate if the government doesn't respond adequately, and fast.

There's signs that some of the aid could go where it needs to, in that McConnell is acknowledging that more direct aid is necessary, and the bipartisan push to get grants to the small businesses and non-profits which have been left out thus far. But there's still no indication that McConnell will allow the $600/week boost to unemployment benefits to continue. That expires at the end of the month, a deadline he's used and will continue to use to try to force Democrats to swallow whatever shit sandwich he hands them.

That would mean no increased food stamps, or money to states for mail-in-balloting this fall, or money to the Post Office, or a big infusion of funds to state, local, municipal and tribal governments. Or adequate direct cash payments to everyone. With Trump pushing hard on the "we'll have to live with the deadly disease" line, insisting that everything must reopen, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are going to have a harder time doing what they did with the CARES bill—push McConnell aside and deal directly with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to get an adequate bill passed.

The best hope is pressure from people on McConnell and on his vulnerable Senate Republicans, up for reelection this year, and on Democrats to hang firm on squeezing as much out of McConnell as possible. Without more and lots of aid to the unemployed, the furloughed, the states and cities, people are going to be forced into reentering a workplace that's clearly unsafe. We likely wouldn't be having this surge of cases throughout the country if people weren't being forced back to work, if staying at home was a viable option.

Saving lives, though, has never been the priority of Trump or Republicans. The best hope is making it clear that their political lives hang in the balance.


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