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Everything wrong with U.S. COVID-19 relief efforts in one 30-second clip

The laughing and finger-pointing during Monday’s Kentucky Senate debate between Mitch McConnell and Amy McGrath illustrates why stimulus negotiations stalled.

Everything wrong with U.S. COVID-19 relief efforts in one 30-second clip
Democratic candidate Amy McGrath (left) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right). [Photo: Michael Clubb-Pool/Getty Images]

Americans need money to live.

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Under capitalism, this is always true, but Americans especially need money right now, when tens of millions of them have lost jobs through no fault of their own, and have as many bills as ever while also having to suddenly homeschool their children.

Americans need money to live, and they certainly need more than the $1,200 stimulus checks that the government issued in spring and early summer. They need more than the additional $600 a week in unemployment relief that stopped coming recently.

If those Americans don’t get the money they need soon, they will face bankruptcy, eviction, and worse.

All that’s standing in the way of such dire straits is a grotesque gridlock typified by this horrific viral clip from Monday night’s televised debate between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his challenger, Kentucky politician Amy McGrath.

In the 30-second clip, McConnell comes off as ghoulish. He is laughing at the idea that the admittedly somewhat pork-soaked $3 trillion relief bill that House Democrats passed in May could have possibly led to a compromise. He is laughing because he has a pillowy comfortable lead in this Senate race and knows he is in no real danger. But it sure looks as though he’s laughing at the impractical, impossibly naive suggestion that he could break through all the bureaucratic bumper cars and find an austerity-transcending solution to a once-in-a-century problem.

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It’s as succinct a summary as one might find for why so many Americans continue to find themselves in an increasingly desperate situation. Although it’s only a 30-second clip pulled from a much longer debate, it more or less sums up the entire six-minute stretch during which the two sides batted around the topic of COVID-19 relief.

The longer segment begins with McGrath giving the White House and Congress an F-grade on their coronavirus response.

“Senator McConnell’s one job is to help America through this crisis right now in passing legislation to keep our economy afloat so people can make ends meet,” McGrath says. “And instead of doing that, he’s trying to ram through a Supreme Court nominee.”

When McGrath goes on to mention the relief bill that the House passed in May, McConnell’s response, echoed in the more damning 30-second clip, is to let out a little chuckle. He rejects the bill she refers to for the following reasons: It provided healthcare to “illegals,” supplied tax cuts to “rich people in New York and California,” and “had more money in it for Puerto Rico than Kentucky.” Meanwhile, McConnell claims, the heroic Republicans in the Senate have been “trying to put something reasonable together.” He touts his efforts to add liability protections, so “people” don’t get sued over COVID-19 regulations—which is a rhetorical flight of fancy, since by “people,” he means business and schools.

McGrath rightly responds by pointing out how McConnell somehow found a way to cut through the clutter and pass a massively unpopular tax cut three years ago, one that has since proven to benefit billionaires more than the working class. Of course, the difference in that instance is that McConnell didn’t have to deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi back then, because Republicans still controlled both the House and the Senate.

As far as Pelosi goes, McConnell complains, with some justification, that she wants too much money for “things unrelated to the problem.” It’s hard to argue with that point, in a vacuum. However, it’s ludicrous to suggest that the best solution was to reject the bill entirely, and that the Senate GOP-proposed bill from September—with its liability lawsuit protections for businesses, schools, and healthcare providers—was much better.

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“I don’t think they want a solution prior to the election,” McConnell concludes.

The Senate Majority Leader’s insistence that only House Democrats is at fault for Americans not getting the money they need, and that, unlike Senate Republicans, they are doing so for political reasons, is just demonstrably false.

Last week, Senate Republicans had the following to say about the prospect of making a relief deal before the election:

Both sides either seem to think now—or have thought at some point along the way—that the optics of the other side refusing to make a deal will ensure that their side doesn’t incur blame for the lack of relief. McConnell just happens to be a bit more obvious and supervillain-esque about his machinations, perhaps because he is confident that he’ll have the support of Kentuckians either way, but the problem doesn’t rest solely on his shoulders or even his side.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans are stretched beyond thin right now, and they need money to live. Their last concern is who, precisely, is responsible for their relief, as long as they receive it.

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Their precarious position is no laughing matter.

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