Federal relief programs are about to expire.
House Democrats passed a comprehensive coronavirus relief bill in May. Republicans waited. Now, with federal economic aid expiring at month’s end, they cannot agree among themselves on a plan, let alone forge a compromise with Democrats. The GOP is out of time, and there is no reasonable alternative to continuing massive federal aid. Republicans must admit the obvious and get a bill passed, immediately.
As usual, the problem begins with President Trump, who has issued counterproductive demands, such as his bizarre idea to block funding for testing and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the middle of a wildfire pandemic. Meanwhile, some within the Senate Republican caucus argue that the federal government should refuse to continue spending vast amounts on economic aid and virus suppression, pressing to reopen the economy instead. Left to sort out this GOP mess is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who should have forced negotiations sooner, and other Republicans who are more sensitive to reality.
There is no way around this fact: Maintaining or reimposing restrictions on economic and social activity does less damage than foolishly trying to get back to normal as an uncontrolled and highly contagious virus rages. Vast swaths of the United States failed to take this lesson, and the pandemic is worse than ever, concentrated in the states with the least responsible leaders. They have extended and deepened the economic misery, not avoided it. If the facts demand that nonessential workers stay home, that social distancing be observed, and that robust testing and tracing occur, then the federal government must provide the resources, because it is the only authority, public or private, with the wherewithal to meet the need.
The necessary policies are not mysterious. Congress should approve another round of checks for low- and middle-income Americans; re-fund and reform the Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to sustain small businesses; fund testing and tracing; and extend enhanced unemployment benefits. Quite a few Republicans already appear to be on board with these. To that, they must add billions in aid to state and local governments, which do not have the federal government’s financial flexibility yet must staff the front lines of the coronavirus response and keep other vital services functioning, and pumped up election funding so people can vote safely this fall.
Economists worry that even the threat of a lapse in expanded unemployment benefits could harm an already struggling economy, as households spend less in anticipation of the cutoff. And even if lawmakers strike a deal soon, it may take state unemployment offices weeks to restart enhanced payments. There is no time left for grandstanding, ideological point-making and reality denial. Congress needs an agreement, now.
Originally published by the Washington Post Editiorial Board on July, 23 2020.July 27th, 2020