Last week, 20 million Americans collected unemployment benefits. That’s 12% of the nation’s workforce. And it’s a number that will spell disaster for America’s economic prospects and the lives of its people if Washington doesn’t come up with an economic stimulus plan.
Another 700,000 workers file for benefits each week as employers shutter or cut workers in response to a coronavirus pandemic surging out of control. Business owners are staring down the barrel of potential bankruptcy. And the numbers will only get worse as states, municipalities and school districts begin making cuts in the coming months. Those layoffs will further depress spending, giving increased momentum to the slowdown.
The damage will increase at a frightening pace. Enhanced unemployment benefits created in the $2 trillion CARES Act in March expire this month. States do not have the money they need to organize and implement vaccine-distribution protocols and programs. And $140 billion in grants and loans for businesses will be left undisbursed as the authorization for five federal programs expires due to Washington inaction.
COVID-19 is killing thousands of people each day in the United States even as a vaccine-fueled end to that carnage is now in view. Even so, the United States likely has just days or weeks to act to prevent damage that will dim the country’s future for a generation.
And it’s truly not a partisan problem.
Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the House Financial Services Committee that help is desperately needed. Powell told the committee "it’s very important" to provide economic support quickly. Mnuchin stressed the importance of renewing expanded benefits for the unemployed and business owners.
In Congress, Democrats of every stripe and moderate Republicans are ready to deal. House Democrats passed a $2.4 trillion plan in August that has gone nowhere in the U.S. Senate, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed this week to support a $908 billion stimulus plan from Senate moderates of both parties, saying it’s at least a starting point.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has touted but never passed a $500 billion plan that provides $330 billion for businesses but nothing for the unemployed, ignores the needs of state and local governments, and focuses on liability exemptions for businesses, won’t budge. And McConnell says his plan is the only one President Donald Trump will sign.
The House is in Democratic hands and the White House soon will be, and both will push for the stimulus help Americans need. Depending on how two runoffs in Georgia go next month, the Senate will be controlled either by Democrats or by McConnell.
As COVID-19-related fatalities increase and the economy falters, McConnell’s refusal to help the nation through the pandemic could well cost the GOP control of the Senate.
Just as Trump’s inability to help the nation through COVID-19 cost the party the White House.
— The editorial board