There appears to be fresh momentum in Congress for passing a compromise aid package that could help struggling small businesses, individuals and states just as they face what could be the worst of the pandemic.
If action is taken before the holiday recess, Americans could see a badly needed extension of unemployment benefits, a fresh infusion into the Paycheck Protection Program, help for small businesses, money for vaccines, and assistance for housing, nutrition and child care — a boon to families hit by both the pandemic and the attendant economic downturn.
On the state level there also appears to be growing support for a narrowly targeted aid package. Both are needed, because even together they will not be able to fully address the need. But they can make a significant dent.
At the federal level, there are reasons to cheer this $908 billion compromise package that go beyond the aid itself. It is the product of a ground-up effort by rank-and-file legislators who have worked for months to show that Congress can still work across party lines for the good of the people.
Minnesotans will be glad to know that at the heart of that effort has been Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, a fiscal lead for the Problem Solvers Caucus that produced this package.
Phillips, South Dakota Republican Dusty Johnson and others in that group have quietly built support for a proposal that bridges a divide that leaders could not. This is the kind of bipartisan work that should be encouraged and that could be a template for future efforts in the next Congress.
Phillips told an editorial writer that the framework included "a number of senators and House members on both sides" working toward a package that was "all about the art of the possible, not the perfect."
There also will be bipartisan criticism of the federal package as well as the state proposal, which is still taking shape. That's to be expected. What's more important by far is that lawmakers move quickly on the elements that matter most in these months before a vaccine becomes widely available.
"We know the need is acute," Phillips said. The nation's resources are reaching a breaking point, from food shelves that cannot keep up with demand to hospitals that are running out of beds, he said.
Just as important have been efforts at the state level, with Gov. Tim Walz meeting with legislative leaders to shape a package that could come before the next special session in mid-December. "The meetings we've had over the last week have been some of the most cordial, respectful and goal-oriented in quite some time," Walz said in an interview with an editorial writer. "There is a sense of shared values over the need to do something, an optimism about the vaccine and, frankly, a realization that this latest spike was real."
Walz said there also is a recognition that "not everything will make it into the final package and leadership knows that." Aid for small businesses, particularly those affected by the latest restrictions, is paramount, he said. "We want to target those businesses as directly as possible." Those that have done their part for public health by closing, he said, are owed some help. But that will not be the only component, he noted. Walz said he is not proposing any tax increases to cover the cost but will insist on aid for individuals as well as businesses.
This country and state have the need and the means. Minnesotans should make it clear they expect action, not obstruction.