America is in the throes of a second pandemic, one that is causing untold misery for millions left unemployed by the ravages of the coronavirus. It is a political pandemic, caused by lawmakers who are unable to work together to reach a solution.
For many Americans, there is little they can do. Their paychecks are gone. Their emergency unemployment benefits have disappeared. Rent and mortgage payments are due. And the politicians argue and dither and do nothing.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in May passed and sent to the Senate a $3 trillion plan to extend emergency unemployment benefits of $600 per week to those left jobless by the pandemic, provide another round of $1,200 payments to individuals, and prohibit evictions, provide assistance to states and local governments, increase spending on food stamps, provide housing support and student loan forgiveness, among other provisions aimed at helping people cope.
But the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider it, saying it was too expensive and too broad (especially the provision requiring all voters to be able to vote by mail). They were hoping the coronavirus would disappear as their fearless leader, Donald Trump, has promised. And now that $600 per week payment has expired and people are stuck without recourse.
So what did the Republicans do? Finally? They came up with a $1 trillion proposal called the "HEALS Act," that slashed that $600 per week emergency payment to $200 because some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said people deliberately stay home from work if they were sent all that free money.
The White House even tried to include money for a new FBI building across the street from Trump's big, fancy hotel in Washington, DC. Why? Because Trump wanted it there.
The Republicans also insist on providing blanket immunity from civil suits filed by workers who come down with covid-19 because their employers fail to properly protect them against the spread of the virus in their workplace.
Typical Republican move and one of the current sticking points in negotiations with Democrats, who unalterably oppose it.
And then, when things got tough and the $600 per week benefit deadline was about to expire July 31, they tried to get Democrats to agree to an extension. For one week.
When Democrats said "uhh, no," what did the Republicans do? They blamed the Democrats for turning down their extension: their one week extension, as Democrats fought for meaningful assistance, not the token assistance offered by the GOP.
Now, Trump is making noises about dealing with some of the key issues, like stopping evictions, by issuing executive orders if Congress can't get its act together.
“A lot of people are going to be evicted but I’m going to stop it because I’ll do it myself if I have to,” Trump told reporters. “I have a lot of powers with respect to executive orders and we’re looking at that very seriously right now.”
An earlier report said Trump was looking to use his executive powers to end the payroll tax, which funds Social Security, as a way to help put more money in the pockets of people affected by the pandemic. Republicans have opposed this idea, as have Democrats, arguing that only employed people pay the payroll tax, so it wouldn't help those who are unemployed.
And so, the battle continues as the politicians huddle and try to find common ground, in a political atmosphere where there is very little of that to be found.
On CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, "“It’s absolutely essential that we reach agreement. The numbers are spiking in terms of the lives and the – life and death, as well as infections, in terms of the virus. So, my view is that if you want to open the economy and the schools, you just have to defeat the virus, and we haven’t done that.”
Whatever, it's long past time for Congress to act. The Republicans have demonstrated callous disregard for the needs of the average American whose livelihood has been devastated by this pandemic. There is no valid reason why they failed to negotiate with Democrats until the deadline was upon them.
It is the height of irresponsibility to put this in the hands of dictator Trump, but then, of course, if they do Republicans can say they did not support further increasing the deficit and Trump can ride in on his white horse and claim to have saved the day while making Democrats look like the villains.
Yes, America is being devastated by a virus. It is a virus of callous political gamesmanship and self preservation. Yes, a vaccine is needed. We have one. It's called the election.
Don't forget that on November 3.