There are lots of reasons to watch in dismay as prominent Republicans dither instead of working to get crucial assistance to Americans suffering in this worsening pandemic. Millions have left the workforce and millions more have watched their incomes shrink and their personal debt grow. Addressing this continuing crisis should be the first order of business both for Congress and for Missouri’s Legislature. But election politics and ongoing loyalty to President Donald Trump seem to cloud smart politicians’ better judgment.
The worst failure of Trump’s turbulent presidency — a virus that has killed close to a quarter-million Americans while his administration shrugged off the pandemic’s seriousness — isn’t going away any time soon. That death toll is far greater than it had to be but would have been worse still had the nation not endured the wrenching economic shutdowns early on to stymie its spread.
The economic effects of those shutdowns were greatly mitigated by the historic federal relief spending approved on a bipartisan basis in late March, including stimulus checks, unemployment benefit enhancement and small-business aid. Even as unemployment soared, poverty didn’t. But the benefits of that spending have mostly dissipated now, just as a new wave of infections rips through the country. More shutdowns are coming, and unless more federal aid is also forthcoming, Americans will feel the brunt of it in ways they didn’t last time.
In Missouri, too, Republicans seem not to grasp the situation. Gov. Mike Parson, faced with the enviable problem of having to spend $1.3 billion in unused federal pandemic funds by the end of the year, wants to use much of it to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance fund, which would mainly serve businesses that pay into the fund and are in line for a tax cut next year. Advocates are pushing instead to use much of it for stimulus checks to Missouri families, similar to what the federal government did earlier this year. That would put the money immediately back into the state’s economy right when it’s needed most to offset the pandemic’s economic ravages.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have long called for a broad new relief package, seeking some $2.4 trillion in spending, compared to the $500 billion Senate Republicans have offered. Democratic leaders last week renewed their stance with a new argument: In overwhelmingly electing Joe Biden, Americans this month have backed Biden’s clear call for an all-in approach to fighting the pandemic, including its economic fallout.
These are the kinds of big ideas that are required to overcome this enormous challenge. The GOP’s sudden embrace of fiscal responsibility rings hollow considering Republicans’ profligate spending and tax cuts for the wealthy that preceded the pandemic. If they continue standing in the way and treating this epic crisis as just another budgetary issue, they will own the economic pain that will inevitably result.