Aug. 16--Congress has recessed. The senators and members of the House of Representatives have jetted home. They left without reaching any agreement to provide additional help to the 10% of Americans who are unemployed.
There was no deal to help hospitals address the ongoing pandemic now responsible for more than 167,000 deaths. No lifeline to assist small businesses buffeted by the pandemic-caused recession and barely surviving. No plan to help states that have seen tax revenues plummet and which, unlike the federal government, cannot print money.
Rep. Max Rose, a freshman New York Democrat who won in a district President Trump captured in 2016, had promised to go to Washington to get things done, not focus on partisan game playing. He has found out in recent weeks how hard that is.
"At this point, it's a middle finger to the American people," Rose told The Hill, crassly but not inaccurately assessing the congressional decision to take the end-of-summer break without a deal. They are not scheduled to be back until after Labor Day.
There is plenty of blame to go around. In mid-May the Democratic-controlled House passed what was then estimated at a $3 trillion relief bill -- later estimates placed it at $3.5 trillion or more -- but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it "dead on arrival" and let months pass by without offering a counter proposal. He still hasn't.
The fact is, aside from appointing plenty of conservative judges to the federal bench -- more than 200 during President Trump's term so far -- McConnell appears to have lost his grip on his caucus. An estimated 20 Republican senators have told their leader they won't sign on to any relief bill, meaning McConnell could not effectively negotiate with his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer.
That meant Democrats trying to reach a deal with the Trump White House, then using a combination of Republican and Democratic votes in the Senate to pass it. It appeared the two sides never got close. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arguably overplayed her hand by concluding Trump, facing re-election, would be willing to move closer to the House plan rather than risk the fallout of coming up empty.
The bottom line is that our government, which had shown brief flashes of cooperation in passing prior relief packages, once again failed the American people by letting partisan agendas prevail over the public good.
That means safety nets have been pulled away. The $600 added stipend atop regular unemployment payments expired at the end of July. The Paycheck Protection Program, which helped keep more than 5 million small businesses open, ended about a week ago. The lack of action invites a deeper, longer recession and more suffering.
Democrats wanted to extend the $600 stipend, while Senate Republicans floated $200. Republicans showed no interest in helping states through the crisis, which is a major economic mistake. There was no agreement on helping schools safely reopen -- even though the White House insists on reopening -- and no added help for hospitals.
McConnell stuck by his insistence that businesses be protected from virus-related liability when they reopen, a non-starter with Democrats who rightly argue that workers should not accept all the risk.
Then there was the sideshow of Trump's executive orders -- ineffective and legally questionable.
We're all still waiting, but Trump's order is supposed to provide a $400 weekly stipend to the unemployed, with states kicking in $100. Many state governors have said they can't. In what is expected to be an extremely intense hurricane season, $44 billion to pay for the unemployment boost would come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund. Seriously. The money would last about a month.
Another order calls for deferring the Social Security tax through year's end for workers who earn less than $4,000 every two weeks. But the deferred taxes would eventually come due. Only Congress can abolish tax liabilities. The plan is a foolish concoction. It is the unemployed, not employed, who need help. And suspending the payroll tax would threaten to further weaken a shaky Social Security program.
Congressional inaction and Trump's grandstanding risk turning an economic crisis into a full-fledged collapse.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
(c)2020 The Day (New London, Conn.)
Visit The Day (New London, Conn.) at www.theday.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.