By editorial board • 

Centrist compromise spurs renewed virus relief hopes

The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, won final congressional and presidential approval on March 27.

At the time, the case count stood at 85,000 in the U.S., the death toll at 1,050. Globally, the figure was 445,000, the death toll 21,200.

Those numbers represented fragments of what was to come. Fast-forward to Dec. 1 and the national case count has increased to 13.5 million, the death toll to 263,000. Globally, the case count has soared to 63.2 million, the death toll to 1.5 million.

And during the intervening eight months, the virus blew up on both the national and international levels, laying the economy to waste in its wake. What kind of response did we see coming from Washington, D.C.?

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero.

The Democrat-led House supported enactment of a second major aid package consistently, throughout the period. It passed a $3.4 trillion version of the HEROES Act on May 15, following up with a compromise $2.2 trillion version on Oct. 1.

However, the deeply divided Senate never managed to find common ground, either internally or externally. And President Trump failed to supply the leadership needed to break the impasse.

Prospects might seem even dimmer in the wake of Trump’s Nov. 3 loss to Joe Biden, easing pressure on Republicans to deliver in a lame-duck session.

However, the stars may be aligning for delivery of a followup aid package in time for Christmas after all. And the effort deserves every bit of encouragement it can get.

First, just when the Senate seemed hopelessly divided, a bipartisan group of centrists unveiled a $908 billion measure Tuesday.

Led by Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the ad hoc group began meeting via Zoom before Thanksgiving.

The Republican side was represented by Mitch Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana,  the Democratic side by Mark Warner of Virginia and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. For good measure, they were joined by two members of the House’s centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, Republican Tom Reed of New York and Democrat Josh Gotthemier of New Jersey.

The measure would provide $288 billion in small business aid, $160 billion in state and local government relief and $18 billion in supplemental unemployment benefits. It would invest $16 billion in vaccine distribution, $82 billion into public school aid, $45 billion in rent, child care, transportation and broadband internet assistance to families in dire need.

Nationally, economic analysts are saying immediate supplemental aid is imperative if we are to avoid sliding into a potentially devastating recession. Biden has picked up on that riff and amplified it, urging Democrats to settle for whatever they can get in order to ensure some measure of relief by year’s end.

Trump remains, as always, a wild card. However, he was pushing hard for a second round of relief pre-election, and he’s now looking toward retaining his grip on the Republican party and potentially mounting a comeback attempt in four years. That intention could tip the balance.

Mitch McConnell and the Republican majority he leads in the Senate have been stumbling blocks. But control of the Senate going forward depends on a pair of runoff races in Georgia; blocking badly needed economic aid might not play well.

There are still two week’s left in this year’s session, and McConnell said Monday, “There is no reason — none — that we shouldn’t deliver another major pandemic relief package.”

The centrist bipartisan compromise could serve to make that happen. And both Oregonians and their fellow Americans would be best served if it did.


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