McConnell, Mnuchin stall talks on COVID relief bill
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell find plenty of money for war and for tax breaks for the rich but offer nothing for the masses of suffering Americans. | Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON—With economic and physical suffering from the coronavirus pandemic increasing, and a financial cliff for those distressed workers and families looming, talks in D.C. to send them more aid have hit Republican rocks, again.

Specifically, congressional Democratic leaders rejected a $916 billion plan floated by Trump Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to give people one-time $300 payments while funneling more federal cash to companies, and nothing to hard-pressed state and local governments.

Mnuchin’s plan, which he says GOP Oval Office occupant Donald Trump backs, also would cut the total allotted for future federal jobless benefits from $180 billion, which progressives contend is already too little, to $40 billion, to be doled out to 20 million or so jobless workers nationwide.

The catch is that if lawmakers go home after Dec. 18 while doing nothing, 60% of those unemployed workers fall off a financial cliff on Dec. 26, when present federal funds run out.

And that doesn’t count undocumented people and workers, who have received little or nothing.

Not only that, but a ban on evictions for non-payment of rent and mortgages also expires. So does a ban on utilities shutting off service to people who can’t afford it.  So does student loan forgiveness.

Mnuchin wasn’t the only roadblock to more aid for financially and physically stressed millions, including those who could be homeless, jobless, heatless, and out on the street late in December.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., again threw up a barrier to more aid.

McConnell said he’d permit a vote on a short-term aid bill only if Democrats dump their key demands for it while he dumps his own “red line.”

McConnell’s “red line” is a corporate giveaway: Barring lawsuits for years by workers and consumers again against firms that don’t protect them against catching the coronavirus.

The Democrats’ key demands are $600-per-week federal checks for jobless workers, plus money for state and local governments, whose revenues have gone into the tank since the coronavirus-closures-caused economic depression hit in March.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that tradeoff’s unacceptable, too. “It’s been difficult, to put it kindly, to get our fellow Republicans to the table” to talk about aid, Schumer told a Zoom meeting of poverty-stricken workers on the evening of Dec. 8.

While Schumer and Pelosi said Mnuchin’s scheme was too skimpy, the progressives, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the Working Families Party and a coalition of almost 1,000 other groups said stressed-out people need even more than lawmakers are talking about.

“Tens of millions of families are struggling to put food on the table, to get health care and to not get evicted,” Sanders told the Dec. 8 session, called to discuss lobbying lawmakers for a People’s Bailout.

Organizational backers of that plan, which is much larger than either the Democratic or GOP proposals, including the CPUSA, the Service Employees, UE, and the Communications Workers, the group’s website says.

“I’m fighting to make sure the COVID emergency aid bill must include $1,200 for every adult and $500 per child,” Sanders declared, after listening to stories told by jobless and frightened workers. “It’s life and death for a number of people.”

“Right now, I’m fighting to keep the Democratic caucus strong, and win over a couple of Republicans” for a “compromise” $900 billion temporary aid bill, which includes the weekly $600 in federal jobless benefits for unemployed workers nationwide, he added.

“We’ll win this if we rally the American people” behind that plan, Sanders urged Zoom attendees. He added Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden promises another big aid package after he takes over Jan. 20. Sanders was Biden’s last standing foe in the long Democratic primary season earlier this year.

All this came as the coronavirus plague continues to worsen. It was symbolized by a haggard and stressed Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., closing down much of the state’s commerce, again, to try to stem community spread of the virus there. His political standing has slumped as he tries to battle the virus and protect Golden State residents—millions of whom defy anti-virus measures.

And as of 10 am on Dec. 9, some 15.186 million people nationwide—equivalent to one of every 22 in the U.S.–had tested positive for the virus, cumulatively, since March. Of those, 286,461 have died. That’s equal to all of Newark, N.J., plus 4,000 more people.

“People are losing faith in their government” as they watch the wrangling in D.C. over aid, Sanders noted. “They think, ‘Does their government hear their pain? Does their government give a damn?’”

After listing all the problems the nation faces as it heads into 2021—including the pandemic, the depression, joblessness, climate change, tackling 400 years of ingrained racism, the need for living wages and a Green New Deal—Sanders concluded “I don’t envy Joe Biden.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.