Democratic House has ideas to stem economic damage. What about Senate Republicans?
This is the latest in a series of editorials taking a closer look at the massive federal coronavirus relief legislation.
When America’s economy tanked 12 weeks ago, Congress responded swiftly in rare bipartisan fashion to approve four rounds of emergency relief aid. There was consensus that Washington had to act fast to counter the devastating downturn from the pandemic shutdown.
Since the last measure passed in March, the urgency has waned among Senate Republicans. They have regrouped within Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s comfort zone of ideological loggerheads and legislative gridlock.
Congressional Democrats see America in acute anguish; a dire situation getting worse. They are pushing new and bigger relief initiatives. Senate Republicans are not facing facts.
America is reeling from multiple, simultaneous catastrophes. The plague continues adding its lethal tally. One out of every five workers are jobless. State and city budgets are hemorrhaging. Long ignored racial inequalities have ignited widespread unrest.
The Democrat-controlled House made its move May 15 when it passed a $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act.
The four previous relief packages became law after intense bipartisan talks between the House and Senate and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
This time around, Democrats acted unilaterally. The HEROES Act is a gambit to re-engage McConnell. The Kentucky senator, true to form, said the measure is dead on arrival.
The Day has endorsed the largest targeted expenditure of the HEROES Act — $1 trillion to states, municipalities, and tribal governments — as crucial to keep essential workers on the job, vital services funded and prevent spikes in state and local taxes.
Another focus of the bill features components designed to help individuals upended by the shutdown. Some we like. Some we don’t:
• Federal supplemental unemployment benefits of $600 per week, scheduled to end in August, are extended to January. There is a problem with this well-intentioned funding. Business owners who reopened complain that combined state and federal unemployment benefits are so lucrative that employees are refusing to return to work. We like Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s idea that the unemployed who are asked to return to work be paid a weekly incentive of $450 for several weeks. For the unemployed whose jobs are not returning, the $600 federal supplemental payment should extend until January.
• A second direct $1,200 payment to individuals. This was a lifesaver in March when the country was in lockdown. It helped people get through one month covering expenses. With the country re-opening, and enhanced unemployment payments available, this is unnecessary.
• Essential-worker incremental hazard pay. This is $200 billion of a well-deserved performance bonus distributed to front-line workers who risked their own health and safety for the public welfare.
• Health care insurance for laid-off workers to maintain their employer coverage through January. This measure unfortunately is necessary because America has no universal health care system. It preserves insurance for millions of unemployed workers.
• Homeowners mortgage relief support of $75 billion for the unemployed, and $100 billion for rental assistance. Millions of people are facing evictions and foreclosures in August as legal protections end. This measure is needed to avoid mass homelessness.
• Temporarily repeal a provision from the 2017 tax law that limited a federal deduction for state and local taxes. This would provide relief to residents of high-tax states like Connecticut. We like the idea, but it has nothing to do with pandemic relief. If Democrats want to change tax law, they should win the 2020 election.
Although McConnell is slow-walking additional federal relief funding, he is promoting a Republican priority to protect businesses from liability lawsuits. Republicans want businesses shielded from lawsuits brought by workers or customers who become infected while on company property. This makes sense, but with conditions.
Congress can order the Centers for Disease Control Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue mandatory guidelines that give businesses clear safety regulations. Those businesses that follow the regulations can claim safe harbor from liability lawsuits. Those who don’t are fair game to claims of negligence.
Americans, tensely at odds along many fraught political divides, are united in a desire to get back to work. We all want to resume pursuing the American dream. The HEROES Act is a straightforward declaration of a Democratic approach to help America recover. The bill meets the urgency of the moment with big ideas and a correspondingly big price tag.
Republicans must respond with something more substantial than McConnell’s wait-and-see, protect-business approach. We need to see what a Republican solution for economic revival looks like.
Your move, Sen. McConnell. Make it a good one. And soon.
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.
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