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With the pandemic and the economy worsening, the Senate offers a weak bill that ignores key challenges.
States, local governments and schools can’t weather the crisis without federal aid.
If more than 4.4 million infected Americans and more than 151,000 deaths didn’t fully drive home the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic for President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, perhaps Thursday’s news will: On their watch, the U.S. economy is collapsing at a record pace.
While the president stokes racial and ideological brushfires and Mr. McConnell projects an air of mild indifference to the crisis, the pandemic Mr. Trump predicted would magically vanish by now is only getting worse. States that followed his advice and got back to business as usual too soon are seeing a surge in cases.
Now comes news from the Commerce Department that gross domestic product plunged last quarter by 9.5 percent — equal to nearly 33 percent on an annualized basis. The previous record plunge, in 1958, was one-third of that rate of loss.
Mr. McConnell and his fellow Republicans’ answer to this national public health and economic disaster is a package that’s one-third what the House of Representatives has passed. Its trillion-dollar price tag isn’t even as much as the tax bill Republicans passed in 2017 that exploded the federal deficit mostly for a gift to wealthy corporations and rich individuals.
This isn’t just about numbers. The House bill reflects the complexity of the health and economic issues in play. The Senate’s is simplistic and dangerously minimalist. It would slash emergency unemployment benefits and give no money to state or local governments grappling with the fallout of the economic slowdown.
While Mr. Trump and his allies gleefully distort the cry of criminal justice reformers around the country to “defund police,” that’s effectively what he and Mr. McConnell would achieve by denying states, cities and schools the kind of money only federal borrowing can produce right now. We’re seeing warnings in New York and the Capital Region, with the governor and local officials warning of deep budget cuts, Cohoes saying it can’t afford overtime for weekend firefighter shifts, and schools talking about slashing teaching ranks. Mr. Trump demands schools reopen, but there won’t be enough money for normal operations, let alone the challenges of the pandemic.
The Senate offers only a fraction of what the House proposed in the way of coronavirus testing and tracing — vital to reopening the economy.
Mr. McConnell appears in little hurry to do anything and Mr. Trump, as always, can do little more than falsely boast success and rant about unproven cures and the need to reopen an economy whose collapse his incompetence and sloth has extended.
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The presidential malpractice that has gotten America to this point could not be more apparent. And this could not be more urgent: the need for Congress and what competence may yet be found in the White House staff to get a deal done before things get much worse for America, and for Americans.