After three weeks in session, the U.S. Senate emptied out again last week, as lawmakers fled Washington for the Memorial Day recess. They left without even pretending to tackle the next round of coronavirus relief.
This is how the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, wants it. Many Republicans, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are reluctant to embrace more government spending, so McConnell is taking a wait-and-see approach.
The Democratic-led House passed a $3 trillion relief package on May 15. That bill was imperfect but it was something. McConnell, on the other hand, has repeatedly said he’s in no hurry for the Senate to offer its own proposal. He has put talks on an indefinite pause, saying he wants to see how the economy responds to previous relief measures. The Senate may get around to putting together a plan when it reconvenes next month. Or perhaps it will in July.
This course of inaction is unsustainable. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, warned last week that the economic damage from the pandemic could stretch through the end of next year. Over the past nine weeks, new jobless claims have hit nearly 39 million, and the official unemployment rate is expected to approach 20% this month. Behind these numbers are real people suffering significant hardship. The Senate’s sluggish response in addressing this suffering has begun to discomfit even some of McConnell’s fellow Republicans.
“I think June doesn’t need to come and go without a phase four,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said last week, referring to the next round of aid.
Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine — both facing tough re-election races — have been especially eager to assure constituents that they take their pain seriously. “Congress has a tremendous responsibility to help mitigate the impact of this crisis on our states and our local communities and on the families they serve,” Collins said in a floor speech last week. “We must not wait. We should act now.”
Republicans should keep the pressure on McConnell and prepare to intensify their push for action when the Senate reconvenes.
The relief package passed by the House is a sprawling jumble of measures. It was not intended as a serious legislative blueprint so much as a maximal opening bid in a high-stakes negotiation. It includes everything from mandating masks on Amtrak trains to establishing new protections for inspectors general to funding environmental justice research.
There is plenty to like in the plan, including $875 billion in direct aid to hard-hit state and local governments, which are seeing revenue fall even as the demand for services skyrockets. But it is neither expansive nor creative enough to meet this moment.
With unemployment predicted to stay high through 2021, lawmakers need to do more to help those Americans whose jobs have vanished, many never to return.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES