Congress is now on a two-week Fourth of July recess—another two weeks in which nothing more will be done to help American families struggling with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has his way, not much more will happen when the Senate reconvenes at the end of the month. According to The Washington Post's Capitol Hill reporters, he's pressuring the White House to keep the spending in the next—and what he says is the last—relief bill under $1 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office says that the economy will lose $16 trillion in the next decade as a result of the pandemic without adequate stimulus.
McConnell has blown off the HEROES Act, which is the next phase passed by the House that includes another round of direct payments to individuals, a boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, funding for states, counties, and cities, more money for virus testing and treatment—everything necessary right now, albeit inadequate even at $3 trillion. McConnell is also insisting that any bill will include liability protection for business, educational institutions, and healthcare providers. McConnell wants to make sure no one is held responsible for endangering lives by recklessly reopening, giving a green light to businesses to be irresponsible and put their employees and customers at risk. Thus far, his Senate Republicans are on board, but will be feeling a lot of pressure when they're back home (if they leave Washington, D.C.) from a stressed out, financially stretched, and sick constituency.
They'll be fighting over another round of direct stimulus checks, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been pushing, but "conservative senior White House economic officials have voiced skepticism about […], arguing Americans are more likely to save those benefits than spend them in the economy, a concern voiced by some Senate Republicans as well." God forbid anyone have any sense of financial security in this disaster, with a little bit set aside for what could happen next. And God forbid there be any disincentive—beyond mass casualties—for reopening. The White House, and so far Senate Republicans, are hell bent on getting back to "normal," even if normal means hundreds of thousands of new cases and mass death.
The one single thing they're talking about that makes any sense is repurposing more than $130 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program that's not been spent thus far to give to businesses that have been hit particularly hard, like the restaurant and hotel industry, "perhaps with a renewed focus on smaller and minority-owned businesses." That's something, anyway. It would take a bit of the potential sting out of the loss of enhanced unemployment insurance, which is almost certainly in the cards. Democrats are fighting to keep the $600-per-week boost to unemployment insurance, a hard sell for Trump and Republicans who say that it's keeping people from returning to work.
More than 30 million people are getting those enhanced benefits, a huge factor in maintaining the economy. Ending that, economist argue, could drain the eventual recovery of hundreds of billions in spending. Trump wants it replaced by a payroll tax cut, which he's been pushing for months to no avail. But now that Republican policies are forcing people back into the workplace, some Republicans are warming to Trump's idea. That serves their always-present goal of undermining Social Security.
Reality might just come back to bite them all in the ass, however, during this two-week break in which the virus clearly is not going to slow down, and with it come continued job losses. Some of McConnell's team is going to be forced to reckon with that when looking ahead to November. Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer summed up the situation last week in a floor statement: "The Republican majority has been out to lunch since we passed the Cares Act way back in March. […] It's been over three months since the Republican Senate has considered major covid-relief legislation. Weekly unemployment claims are measured in the millions. States are shedding public service jobs in the tens of thousands. The number of new cases is accelerating in nearly half of our states. […] Just how much more assessment do we need?"