Part of the Series
Despair and Disparity: The Uneven Burdens of COVID-19
Let us now turn our primers to the chapter titled, “Stuff That Should Have Happened Months Ago But Didn’t Because Mitch McConnell Said ‘No.’”
Two months and tens of thousands of corpses ago, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package that would be the largest of its kind in U.S. history if passed by the full Congress.
After passing in the House, the HEROES Act has moldered for almost a dozen weeks on the desk of Mitch McConnell like a dead bird by the side of some dusty Kentucky road. On the day it passed the House, nearly 86,000 people in the U.S. had succumbed to COVID. Today, the death toll stands at nearly twice that number, and continues to increase by about 1,000 souls a day.
Back in early spring when the COVID banshee was screaming all up and down the East coast, McConnell had little choice but to pass the CARES Act, the first stimulus package of the pandemic. It is no exaggeration to say the CARES Act salvaged the country in a time of bleakest need, and soon after, even more was needed.
For McConnell and his ilk, however, providing more government aid to the people was ideologically unsound. Thus, the HEROES Act has languished in Senate Republican limbo since the first green grass broke through to the light. Now, as the COVID pandemic has become worse than it was even in the darkest hours of the springtime, McConnell is confronted once again with a decision he cannot avoid.
Among the tallest reasons why the pressure is on to pass a new relief bill is the fact that a $600 weekly emergency unemployment benefit is set to expire within days. With COVID rampaging through the South and West, swaths of businesses are either scaling back or closing outright, many for the second time. Without that emergency stipend, tens of millions of people will be staring down the barrel of food shortages and eviction. McConnell and the GOP seek to cut that emergency benefit by $400 a week.
The $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability, and Schools (HEALS) Act, unveiled in parts by Republicans on Monday, would protect corporations from coronavirus-related lawsuits via a sweeping five-year liability shield — something McConnell has been pushing for months. The Republican package would also do nothing to expand federal nutrition aid and offers no additional emergency relief to the struggling U.S. Postal Service.
Tallest of all reasons in the immediate moment is the giant, furious elephant in the room: Reopening schools. The bell is set to ring within weeks, Donald Trump has made sending the kids back to the classroom amid this uncontrolled pandemic a top priority, and yet school districts from one side of the country to the other are thoroughly unprepared and shamefully underfunded to complete this nigh-impossible task. Remote learning? Not nearly ready yet, either.
So, of course, the Senate Republican rejoinder to these twin crises is to lowball their aid offer, offering no new aid to states and cities to address the insurmountable challenges before them. The White House, for its part, tried to zero out funding for new testing, and demanded money to build a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. Why a new headquarters? Because it would be across the street from a Trump hotel property. Why no new testing? If you have to ask now, you’ll never understand.
According to multiple reports, the Senate Republican caucus is in utter disarray. Prominent GOP senators believe half the caucus will vote against whatever the leadership coughs up, no matter what is included. Wreckers like Sen. Ted Cruz stalk the halls of the Capitol rattling the rusty old chains of fiscal responsibility even as the dome caves in on his head. Meanwhile, more than 20 GOP senators are up for reelection next month, many from states now deeply affected by COVID. If they come away from this with nothing to show, there will be hell to pay come November.
The short version is that Speaker Pelosi should have a very strong negotiating hand when she sits down with McConnell and his pack of brigands this week. The House’s CARES Act is incomplete medicine, but far better than the dregs being peddled by McConnell and the White House. It is to be hoped that Pelosi can summon every last ounce of canniness and strength gathered over her decades in office for this one pivotal, all-important moment.
I am running out of usable words for Trump, McConnell and every other free-market fraud who is actively dooming the people to death in defense of an ideology that failed decades ago and has been rotting right out in the open ever since.
“Aid money makes people lazy” is the shortest racist shorthand in U.S. history, but that — along with pure venal greed — is why we have been made to wait for a spoonful of help from a government that spends trillions on the art of dealing death far away, and right here at home.
Pass the goddamn HEROES Act, and then pass another bill, and then another, as many as are needed to save lives, ensure testing, and keep people safe until the long burn of COVID runs its course.
We are being led by the worst people at the worst possible time, and the Republican reaction to this stimulus package debate is exactly the kind of thinking that will leave this nation a bowl of ashes far sooner than we think. The only thing inevitable in life is death, and it is knocking on our national door.