Nobody said bipartisanship was easy, but it can work.
As Washington continues to jockey endlessly over what should or shouldn't be in a coronavirus relief package, Minnesota lawmakers stepped up Monday and got it done.
Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate came together to pass a $242 million aid package aimed squarely at those small businesses hurt worst by the pandemic, along with relief for workers.
More than 100,000 Minnesotans laid off from their jobs due to the pandemic recession will get a desperately needed 13-week extension of unemployment benefits. That's enough to carry them through to April, when it's hoped that vaccinations will have heralded a return to some degree of normalcy.
The bill was the product of several weeks of hard work, brainstorming and negotiations on both sides that stretched into the weekend in preparation for Monday's special session. The result is a meaty mix of direct aid for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, movie theaters, bowling lanes, convention centers and other businesses, along with waivers that will add to their bottom line. It had been $216 million, but the Senate added $25 million to help restore the state's unemployment trust fund, bringing the total cost to $242 million.
That compromise was hard to achieve could be seen in the string of late-night speeches by a handful of House lawmakers who railed against the inclusion of various provisions while others lamented those left out.
But others praised the joint efforts, relieved not only to bring good news to their constituents, but to affirm the value of compromise. "It's not perfect," Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley and a small-business owner, said of the deal. "But hats off to the folks who worked on it. It does show that when you get more people involved ... we do get better bills, we do get better information."
Rep. Mohammed Noor, DFL Minneapolis, echoed that sentiment. Noor said he was "truly disappointed" that a $500 cash grant to very low-income families fell out in negotiations. That element should still be pursued, because the federal funding is there, unused. But, he noted, the bill will do much good. The unemployment benefits, he said, "are a lifeline for many as we wait for Congress to act." For small businesses, he said, "the past eight months have been painful. We have heard from many. We need to look at how we can support one another."
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he was a "bit surprised" by the negativity some on his side expressed. "Pandemics are awful. All the options are bad. Wealth is destroyed. Hospitals fill up." But, he said, "Good news is on the way. We will pass this bill and get some assistance to people who need it. It's a step in the right direction." To the naysayers, he said, "What is your plan?"
It's easy to carp and criticize. It's much harder to work across differences and accept what's possible. It is the essence of good lawmaking. It was good to see that ethic in place at the Legislature, just when Minnesotans needed it most.