Sen. Ron Johnson: There's no reason to give struggling Americans much help

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The Wisconsin Republican says $900 billion is too much to waste on pandemic relief.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said Thursday that a proposed $900 billion pandemic relief compromise is totally unnecessary.

"We shouldn’t be scattering [money] with a shotgun approach, just providing all kinds of money to all kinds of people," he told The Hill. "I think this pandemic will be over before more people realize. We didn’t have to spend $900 billion."

Johnson's comments come as bipartisan negotiators are trying to work out final details on pared-down compromise legislation before time runs out in the 116th Congress. Emergency unemployment benefits, protections for people who rent their homes, and paid leave are all set to expire in a few days unless Congress acts. This could mean millions of people will face default, eviction, foreclosure, and poverty.

But Johnson has instead backed a $500 billion Senate Republican "skinny" bill that Democrats and even Donald Trump say is inadequate.

In May, the Democratic-controlled House passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. Johnson and the Senate Republican majority blocked this proposal, refusing to even give it a vote.

In October, Trump urged Congress to go even beyond a $1.8 trillion proposed compromise, noting that the economic crisis "was not caused by our workers and our people," but by the pandemic.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly rejected even the $1.8 trillion level, saying his caucus would not back it. "That’s where the administration’s willing to go. My members think what we laid out, a half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go," he told reporters.

Johnson backed up his leader. "We did the right thing," he said "The president has his opinion, we have ours."

His suggestion that the problem is simply going to go away has been a longstanding — and demonstrably false — Republican talking point.

"You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April," Trump baselessly suggested in February.

McConnell said in August that his refusal to consider any relief at all for months was "the reasonable thing to do" as it "allowed us to learn the coronavirus didn't mysteriously disappear."

In October, after being hospitalized with his own bout with the coronavirus, Trump again told the nation, "It’s going to disappear. It is disappearing."

Johnson also tested positive in October, but he dismissed "unjustifiable hysteria" about the pandemic. "The truth is most people who get COVID are going to be just fine," he predicted, though the medical community is still learning about long-term damage and ongoing symptoms caused by the virus.

Later that month, he incorrectly claimed that month that "we've flattened the curve" with the coronavirus, just as cases and deaths were spiking in his state and nationally.

More than 300,000 Americans have died, with more than 3,000 Americans dying every day this week.

While public health experts are hopeful that newly approved vaccines will allow Americans' lives to return to normal by autumn, it will be months before most people are able to get inoculated.

Despite Johnson's pronouncement that the economy will soon be just fine, the nation continues to set daily records for coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths and the economy continues to tank.

On Thursday, unemployment claims soared to their highest levels in three months. Millions of Americans continue to be out of work, largely as a result of business closures due to the pandemic. As of October, more than 179,000 Wisconsin residents were unemployed.

About 7.8 million Americans have fallen into poverty over the last five months, according to data released earlier this week by researchers at the Universities of Chicago and Notre Dame. This was the largest single-year rise in the 60 years the nation has tracked poverty rates.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.