More economic turmoil is mounting — but Republicans are sitting on their hands

More economic turmoil is mounting — but Republicans are sitting on their hands
U.S. Congress

It's been 109 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, emergency coronavirus funding, a bill that Mitch McConnell has refused to consider in the Senate. In those 109 days, the U.S. Postal Service has been brought to its knees; millions of people have seen their unemployment benefits slashed; millions more people became unemployed; eviction moratoriums have ended; food assistance has been cut. Tens of thousands of people have died of coronavirus. Oh, and we're 29 days from a possible government shutdown, when government spending ends with the fiscal year.

The response to all this from the Republican Party was on full display last week at the convention. Nothing to see here, coronavirus is over. The response from the White House has been to blame it all on Nancy Pelosi and to start pushing a "herd immunity" policy. Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has a "goal" of having a procedural vote this month—that he knows cannot pass—for his bill that pretends to be coronavirus relief but is really just a bill to let schools and businesses off the liability hook for endangering people.

Meanwhile, the stock market is chugging along just fine (which is why Trump and the Republicans don't think there's anything wrong) but a wave of small-business failures is imminent. That's because there isn't any money out there for people to spend to keep them open. The $1,200 stimulus checks people received are long gone, spent on rent and food and utilities and other pressing needs. The $600 bump to unemployment benefits expired a month ago, making millions more families more cash-strapped.

The Paycheck Protection Program, problematic as it was, did help with hundreds of billions in grants and loans to tide businesses over for several months. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.) We're now in the sixth month of the pandemic and that money is gone. The onset of fall and winter means that restaurants and other businesses who've been able to open up with outdoor adaptations are going to have to close again. And fall and winter could very well bring a new surge of coronavirus—and regular flu—cases.

“We’re on life support now, and if we have to go through another shutdown or more restrictions, it’s going to be even worse for a lot more restaurants that are just barely scraping by,” Markus Ripperger, president and chief executive of Hampshire House, which owns the Cheers bar and three other restaurants in Boston told The New York Times. According to a National Federation of Independent Businesses, the leading small-business lobbying and trade group, 21% of small businesses say they'll have to close permanently if the economy doesn't improve dramatically for them in the next six months. “The consequences to allowing a tidal wave of closures is we will make every aspect of the recovery harder,” said John Lettieri, president and chief executive of the Economic Innovation Group, a Washington research organization. Nearly half of working Americans are employed at business with fewer than 500 people. Unemployment is looking to get a lot worse.

It doesn't have to be this way. It's largely on Mitch McConnell that it is. He's fully bought into Trump's decision that the best response to the ongoing crisis is to pretend that it's not happening and force America to go back to "normal," even if that means 2 or 3 million needless deaths, tens of millions unemployed. What McConnell has in mind with this is a mystery. Why he's leaving so many of his vulnerable Republican senators hanging—along with his own position as majority leader—is an even bigger puzzle. So is the fact that those vulnerable Republicans haven't started to raise holy hell about it and make him do something beyond holding a token vote on a useless bill that he knows will go nowhere.

That's not to say there's not panic among Republicans and their allies about Trump and the Republicans’ total abdication. How else do you read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce efforts to co-opt a bunch of Democratic House freshmen this cycle with endorsements and campaign money? They need a foot in the door when the Republican edifice comes crashing down.

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