McConnell stops blocking virus relief for fear it could cost him Senate majority

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After months of blocking relief for millions of Americans, McConnell's fear of losing control of the Senate brings him to the negotiating table.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has held up the passage of virus relief since May, refusing to negotiate with Democrats as millions of people fell into poverty and laid off workers suffered.

But as it became clear that his blockade of needed relief could cost Republicans the two Senate seats in Georgia, he finally decided to go to the negotiating table, the New York Times reported.

According to the report, McConnell said in a call with Republicans that Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue — the Georgia Republicans locked in competitive runoff elections that will determine control of the Senate — are "getting hammered" for not giving aid to Americans. McConnell now thinks that passing a virus relief bill could help Republicans win their races and keep control of the Senate.

The Democratic-controlled House has passed multiple coronavirus relief bills that have laid dormant in the McConnell-controlled Senate, with McConnell insisting the bills were too expensive and unnecessary.

The Democratic-passed bills authorized new rounds of direct payments to Americans who earn under a certain income threshold. They also restarted the additional $600 per week unemployment payments that McConnell let expire in July.

The Democratic-run House passed the first virus relief extension bill on May 15 — 216 days ago.

On Oct. 1, Democrats passed another bill that authorized more direct payments and added back the $600 weekly Unemployment Insurance boost. That bill that passed without a single Republican vote. But McConnell also let that bill sit for 77 days without action.

It's only now, with his Senate majority at risk, that he has decided to act — coming to the negotiating table with a much less generous offer of aid to struggling Americans. According to reports, McConnell drove down the dollar figure of direct payments from the $1,200 Democrats wanted to $600, and the weekly unemployment boost from $600 to $300.

Meanwhile, as McConnell refused to help, 8 million people fell into poverty — a massive surge of suffering that economists say could have been avoided had Congress merely kept the $600 weekly Unemployment Insurance boost.

"Due to the expiration of the CARES Act’s stimulus checks and $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits, the monthly poverty rate in September was higher than rates during April or May, and also higher than pre-crisis levels," a study from the Columbia University Center on Poverty & Social Policy released in October found.

Democrats have been slamming McConnell for his refusal to help.

"Eight months ago, Americans got $1200 checks. Since then, Democrats have been fighting to get more. More unemployment help. More for money to pay for food and rent. But Mitch McConnell just kept saying no, no, no.   Americans need help, and we must get it to them now," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweeted on Wednesday. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.