The pandemic continues to decimate the nation’s economy. Real people are in real pain. State and local governments face unprecedented budget gaps. All eyes turn to Washington, where dysfunction has reigned for months.
There’s one last chance before the presidential election to get needed relief to the unemployed, to struggling businesses, from restaurants to airlines, to schools and child care centers, and to states like our own, where revenues have fallen and expenses — including the expense of fighting this pandemic — have soared.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are at least negotiating again — for the first time since August — about the terms of that relief bill and about its bottom line. With no congressional action since the last relief bill passed in April, they could both use a preelection win — and so could the American people.
House Democrats put forth yet another bill this week, which at $2.2 trillion is well under the $3.4 trillion price tag on the so-called Heroes Act passed last May by the House but declared dead on arrival in the Senate.
In a letter to her fellow caucus members, Pelosi wrote, “Democrats are making good on our promise to compromise with this updated bill, which is necessary to address the immediate health and economic crisis facing America’s working families right now.”
The effort, she added, “serves as our proffer to Republicans to come to negotiations to address the health and economic catastrophe in our country.”
The package includes:
▪ Another round of direct $1,200 payments to most Americans.
▪ Reinstatement of the $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefits through January.
▪ Some $436 billion in aid to state and local government.
▪ A $120 billion program to aid restaurants.
▪ Aid to education ($225 billion) and to support child care ($57 billion).
▪ An additional $75 billion for coronavirus testing and contact tracing.
▪ Some $25 billion to help airlines cover payroll costs.
Mnuchin, negotiating on behalf of the White House, has previously indicated he’d like something more in the $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion range, although Senate Republicans have balked at even those numbers. But then again, Senate Republicans have proved rather malleable when the Trump White House wants something.
Aid to state and local government — the most contentious provision but also among the most critical for states like Massachusetts — has been anathema to both the White House and congressional Republicans, who seem not to comprehend that red states are hurting economically just as much as blue states these days.
What has been clear throughout the summer is that measures like the half-baked executive orders Trump signed in August, especially the one to defer payroll taxes, are worse than useless. Many businesses chose to ignore the order on deferred taxes rather than burden their employees with massive tax bills in the new year. And, of course, if Trump followed through on his “elect me and I’ll cut the taxes permanently” move, it would very soon bankrupt the Social Security system.
What is also clear is that Donald Trump would like nothing better than to have the government send out checks once again with his name on them.
As politically cynical as that is, it’s a price Democrats can live with.
This latest iteration of the Heroes Act is, as Pelosi called it, a “proffer” — her opening hand. But time is short, and the Senate will soon be preoccupied with a Supreme Court nomination.
The economic pain felt by ordinary Americans didn’t take a holiday after federal money — stimulus checks, unemployment checks, payroll protection loans — ran out this summer. And as the country braces for what experts fear might be a second surge in pandemic cases, it is also bracing for a second wave of economic distress, with layoffs looming for teachers and restaurant workers.
Congress and the White House can take the edge off that pain, but that needs to happen now.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.