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Small business loans deserve added funding, but Congress must address other pandemic-related needs, too | COMMENTARY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, speaks with reporters outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 9, 2020. Senate Democrats have stalled President Donald Trump's request for $250 billion to supplement a "paycheck protection" program for businesses crippled by the coronavirus outbreak, demanding protections for minority-owned businesses and money for health care providers and state and local governments. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, speaks with reporters outside the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 9, 2020. Senate Democrats have stalled President Donald Trump's request for $250 billion to supplement a "paycheck protection" program for businesses crippled by the coronavirus outbreak, demanding protections for minority-owned businesses and money for health care providers and state and local governments. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (Patrick Semansky / AP)

One of the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic is the scale and abruptness of the change it has brought to American life. Watching the Orioles on MASN, hanging out at the neighbor’s house, seeing your kids to the school bus, commuting to work — these are the familiar daily roles for many Maryland families. You could set your clock by them and their absence is disorienting. The same must surely be the case in Washington where partisan squabbling has been the norm for many years. Yet in the midst of a pandemic and on a day when U.S. jobless claims hit the 22 million mark with a whopping 5.2 million added just this week, self-serving political attacks are not just distasteful, they are appalling. Do President Donald Trump and congressional leaders understand this, or is it possible they can’t help themselves?

Republicans are correct about one thing. The Paycheck Protection Program, the popular small business loan program that provides cash to companies that keep workers on the job (as well as the chance to have those loans ultimately forgiven), deserves a boost. While the PPP suffered some initial rollout problems, it appears to be helping and has now depleted the $350 billion set aside for it under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Republicans want to add $250 billion more. So do Democrats, actually. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others want to use this opportunity to get GOP support for some other worthy programs that address other pressing needs caused by the pandemic, specifically for at least $250 billion for hospitals, local governments and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to help feed low-income families.

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In a functioning government, this would seem pretty easy stuff. As economists have pointed out, now is the time for Congress to be shoveling money out in great quantities to prevent a Great Depression-like collapse of the nation’s economy. It’s difficult to argue against hospitals right now or even local governments given how essential the essential local services like schools, police, firefighting and even trash collection look at the moment. Tax revenues are falling rapidly and municipalities don’t print money; the federal government does. As for the SNAP program, are we really going to wish for Depression-era bread lines instead? Why does it take more than a couple of phone calls or maybe some Zoom chats to get a compromise passed by unanimous consent? Most likely it’s because of leftover knee-jerk Tea Party-style antagonism toward funding government. Or maybe it’s just a desire to squabble.

Here’s a news blast, elected leaders: Get it done. Americans are in no mood to hear bickering over money for hospitals while caregivers are risking their lives to treat COVID-19 patients. President Donald Trump may brag about the ratings of his nightly news conferences but we can guarantee you this, average folk aren’t all that worked up over who is running the Voice of America right now. Or the backlog of appointees. Or, frankly, whether White House correspondents are asking questions that are too tough or even phrased in a manner that does not please the president. They just aren’t. They are worried. They are exhausted. They are stressed. If Mr. Trump wants approval ratings, he’ll have Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin finalizing a compromise relief package with all of the above before the weekend. That’s how the CARES Act passed in the first place. Nobody was talking about legislative “hostages” then and Americans surely appreciated the bipartisanship.

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Of course, that’s a two-way street. Democrats ought to show some restraint as well. Their recently-announced plan for a 9/11 Commission-style review of the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, for example, is worthy but an effort better suited until after the November election. After all, the bipartisan commission they seek to emulate wasn’t formed until 14 months after the terrorist attack. Do they find President Donald Trump’s self-aggrandizing behavior, his rewrites of history, his scapegoating, all of those things he so proudly puts on display at the White House briefings, insufferable? Well, yes, they do. We’re betting a lot of U.S. voters do, too. And the notion that having his name on the memo line of a government relief check will buy him votes only underscores the absurdity of it all. Right now, the nation needs grown-ups taking their responsibilities seriously and acting in the nation’s best interests. The day to judge their personal performance, Election Day on Nov. 3, is still more than six months away.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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