As the pandemic grinds on, Republican legislators here and in Washington continue to play political tic-tac-toe, the child's game that no adult plays because everything winds up in a stalemate.
The latest version had Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, months after the House passed a HEROES Act that would have given states the federal aid they desperately need, instead offering up a "skinny" stimulus bill that lacked any such aid.
Instead, it featured a meager extension of unemployment benefits that was only half the size of the previous benefit, which did so much to help Americans survive the first wave of COVID. When Democrats failed to acquiesce, McConnell turned to an old tactic — blaming them for "blocking" a bill that omitted that which they consider vital.
The gamesmanship has chewed up still more precious time, as states feel ever more deeply the combined punch of an ongoing public health crisis and its attendant recession. A reminder that in Minnesota, as in many states, the lion's share of state spending centers on just two items: health care and K-12 education. With falling sales and tax revenue, a legal prohibition against deficit spending and no help from Washington, states may soon have little choice but to cut into those two foundational services.
Gov. Tim Walz said he is already advising agencies to prepare for such a scenario. Washington cannot escape its obligation to help states. Forcing them to cut services will only deepen the crisis this nation faces.
The situation is little better at the Minnesota Legislature. Friday marked its fourth special session of the year, each one instituted to extend Walz's emergency powers. The Republican-led Senate again opposed the extension, but cannot by itself prevent it.
It should be noted that most governors are operating under such emergency powers. It gives them the ability to move quickly in responding to the pandemic.
In most states, it has not been an issue. But Minnesota is one of only two states with a divided Legislature, and the only one that also has a Democratic governor. That has made for a paralyzing level of polarization. Minnesotans should not have to suffer for that.
On Friday Walz paid another political price: the loss of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, whose confirmation Senate Republicans voted to reject, aided by DFL Sens. Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni. Senate Republicans in the August session rejected Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink.
Both had been on the job since Walz took office. Both were essentially fired for doing their jobs, just not in a way that suited the opposition party. The notion that Senate Republicans could punish Walz by axing one of his commissioners every time he extends the power exercised by nearly every other governor in the country takes polarization to new lows.
Meanwhile, the Senate has yet to take the one positive action within its grasp: Passing a bonding bill that would provide much-needed stimulus in every corner of the state just when Minnesotans need it most.
A frustrated Walz told reporters on Friday that "my administration, my commissioners are fighting COVID every day, doing the best we can to protect Minnesotans, get our businesses open. ... We had an opportunity today to talk about some important issues, but we tried to pretend that COVID wasn't real. ... I take that very seriously."
As should we all.