'Economic sabotage': McConnell unveils COVID plan with $0 for unemployment boost, direct payments

'Economic sabotage': McConnell unveils COVID plan with $0 for unemployment boost, direct payments
Photo via Gage Skidmore.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday began circulating a coronavirus relief proposal whose contents offer so little assistance to the tens of millions of jobless, hungry, and eviction-prone Americans that critics warned the Kentucky Republican is actively working to ensure the U.S. economy remains mired in deep recession as Biden administration takes charge next month.

Described as a "targeted" relief proposal, McConnell's plan is heavily geared toward providing corporations with immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits; the offer includes a liability shield that Public Citizen's Remington Gregg described as "breathtakingly broad." The Kentucky Republican's plan also contains a 100% tax deduction for business meals.

Meanwhile, McConnell's proposed relief measure does not include a boost to federal unemployment insurance, instead calling for a mere one-month extension of existing programs and stricter requirements on applicants in the name of preventing "fraud." The Republican's proposal also omits another round of direct stimulus payments and aid to cash-strapped state and local governments.

"Leave it to Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump to propose a bill that creates tax write-offs for fancy lunches and gives the middle finger to working families and 20 million unemployed Americans," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). "This is not a serious proposal, it is a slap in the face to people who need help."

In the months ahead of the November election and in the weeks since, analysts have cautioned that if McConnell maintains his stranglehold on the Senate, the Kentucky Republican could attempt to impose devastating economic austerity with the goal of undermining Biden's presidency and gaining GOP seats in 2022 and beyond. McConnell's new relief proposal only bolstered those concerns.

"McConnell is making it pretty clear that if Dems don't win the Georgia Senate races, he will cripple the American economy, hoping it will let the GOP win the midterm," tweeted journalist Jon Walker.

HuffPost's Zach Carter offered a similar assessment:

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action said in a statement that McConnell's latest coronavirus relief offer is "nothing but a cruel joke."

"Once again, Mitch McConnell shows that he is more interested in protecting corporations that have put workers' lives at risk than he is in protecting Americans who have lost their water service," said Hauter. "As the Covid crisis only grows more deadly, this disgraceful proposal puts the lives of everyday Americans at even greater risk."

Locked in a standstill for months amid rapidly deteriorating economic conditions and a surging pandemic, coronavirus relief negotiations received something of a push Tuesday when a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers outlined a $908 billion stimulus plan that includes a $300-per-week federal boost to unemployment benefits and a more limited corporate liability shield than the one McConnell is pushing.

Ahead of the introduction of the bipartisan proposal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Monday sent a relief offer of their own to McConnell but declined to provide specifics.

"I'm not going to get in the details," Schumer said Tuesday. "It was a private proposal to help us move the ball forward."

With an estimated 12 million Americans set to lose unemployment benefits on the day after Christmas without action from Congress, a group of five senators—including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Schumer—introduced legislation that would retroactively extend the lapsed $600-per-week federal boost to unemployment insurance through October 2021.

"With the economy backsliding as Covid-19 cases explode nationwide, Senate Republicans are set to push millions of American families off a cliff," Wyden warned in a statement. "Whether or not you can pay rent or feed your family should not depend on whether or not Mitch McConnell sees it in his political interest."

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