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Lame-duck Congress must approve bipartisan stimulus bill | COMMENTARY

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington,Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, during a hearing on, 'The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress.' (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool)
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington,Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, during a hearing on, 'The Quarterly CARES Act Report to Congress.' (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool) (Susan Walsh/AP)

Gov. Larry Hogan, who seems to have found a second career in national political punditry if not office-seeking, offered a useful message for members of Congress this week including his fellow Republicans: Pass the compromise coronavirus economic relief package. “Every day I hear from small business owners who say that without this help they may not be able to keep their doors open,” Maryland’s governor told reporters at a State House news conference Tuesday afternoon. ”The time for partisan politics is over.”

To which we would add: amen.

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The $908 billion proposal is far less than the nearly $3 trillion in spending that House Democrats have already approved. It doesn’t contain the direct aid (those $1,200 checks included in last spring’s emergency relief) that so many Americans found so vital for keeping their finances afloat. And it has no support from the most difficult gatekeeper of all, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has already said he won’t bring it to a vote (though he has pledged to support a smaller, so far unsubstantiated “targeted” relief effort).

But it’s surely the best that can be had in the lame duck session. It can be squeezed into legislation to prevent a government shutdown before Dec. 11. It has the support of enough Senate Republicans — including Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Bill Cassidy — to pass the chamber with Democratic support. And it contains measures that were high on the economic stimulus wish list: help for small businesses, a continued boost in unemployment aid and relief for state governments reeling from a COVID-19-related drop in tax revenues.

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Make no mistake, even with vaccines headed for FDA approval and perhaps distribution in a matter of weeks, maybe even days, the U.S. economy is far from out of the woods. Pay no attention to the investor class that is celebrating shockingly high returns on equities this year, many American families are still struggling. President-elect Joe Biden surely intends to offer a much-larger relief package after he’s sworn into office Jan. 20, but that won’t necessarily improve the odds of passage if the Georgia Senate runoff goes, as most observers predict, to one or more of the two GOP candidates. A COVID-19 second wave economic swoon under President Biden’s watch may be just the sort of thing that Senator McConnell actually desires.

Yet Mr. McConnell’s opposition now might be overcome. It would surely boost the Republican Party’s brand in advance of the Georgia election to show some tangible sign of caring about the working class. At least it might offset President Donald Trump’s increasingly irrational claims of a “stolen” election and international mail-in ballot conspiracies that even Attorney General Bill Barr isn’t buying. To do nothing now, as the coronavirus hospitalizations spike, deaths reach 9/11 levels on a daily basis and small businesses go under (while the White House hands out criminal pardons like Christmas candy) can’t be a good look for an elected official from any political stripe.

Case in point: Just in Baltimore this week there are signs of more failing restaurants, an industry especially hard it by the pandemic and limits of indoor dining and hours. Aldo’s in Little Italy recently chose to suspend indoor dining as a 25% capacity limit proved too daunting. Meanwhile, landmark restaurants from nearby Roy’s in Harbor East to the Milton Inn in Sparks are gone permanently. Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell has been warning anyone who will listen that the economic outlook remains “extraordinarily uncertain.” Is Congress deaf?

Mr. McConnell may not be ready to go centrist in the manner of Governor Hogan, but he and his fellow GOP senators can surely see advantage in giving compromise a chance at least once, not to mention help states run by Republican governors. Walk away from this bipartisan measure and the Biden administration can rightfully claim that Republicans remain the party of the rich despite all that populist rhetoric of the last four years. That doesn’t seem like a winning message in 2022 anymore than it does in 2020. Americans have seen what Congress can do when it’s properly motivated as it was when it passed the CARES Act in March. Another economic shot in the arm is just what the doctor ordered.

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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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