A specter is haunting America. It’s not the animating spirit of a certain German’s fever dreams, but one that still sends chills down the spine of many of the nation’s top capitalists: a lack of government economic aid.
“There hasn’t been a bigger a need for it in a long, long time here,” Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said at a virtual meeting of a San Francisco business group last week, according to The Associated Press.
Yet even as the pandemic’s death toll rolls past 250,000 Americans – 10,000 more than the high end of this spring’s pessimistic estimates – and infected at least 11.1 million people, including 1 million in the last week, Congress sees fit to continue leisurely negotiations over a new spending package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, continues to ignore the verdict delivered by the American people in this month’s presidential election, that the current federal response to the pandemic has been at best insufficient. He and other GOP leaders are content to aid President Donald Trump’s half-baked, slow-motion coup plot instead of addressing the real problem at hand.
Indeed, once spending on several already-underway weapons programs masquerading as economic aid and money for Trump’s ineffective, ill-advised border wall are stripped out, Congressional Republicans’ latest offer in these negotiations drops from $1.4 trillion to a mere $702 billion.
Judging by their crocodile tears over the national debt, Republican resistance to sufficient additional spending, of the sort that would help states and municipalities continue to fund unemployment benefits, rental assistance and vital public services, seems to hinge on an out-of-touch, misplaced fear that more rescue money will create a second Tea Party.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is doing better by holding fast to her $2 trillion stimulus demand, but not nearly enough. She may have a more realistic understanding of what the nation’s needs are, but that isn’t stopping her and senior Democrats from putting social media point-scoring and intra-party ideological squabbles ahead of searching for piecemeal, issue-by-issue deals.
As if to prove she can be as out of touch with the needs of ordinary Americans as Republicans, Pelosi had planned an indoor banquet – later cancelled in the face of public outrage – at the Capitol for incoming freshmen legislators. It would have taken place less than two weeks before this nation’s families sit down to Thanksgiving dinners that seem likely to have the largest number of empty chairs since World War II.
With a fractured political environment that rewards confrontation over compromise, finding deals is undeniably difficult work. And while the president may have utterly abandoned his job to lead this country through its crisis, that doesn’t mean congressional leaders in both parties can abdicate their responsibilities, too. Perhaps, with the help of President-elect Joe Biden, Congress just might be able to find a common way forward.
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