Senate Republicans Take Long Weekend To Decide If You Should Be Able To Pay Your Rent Tomorrow
For 110 million Americans, the rent is due tomorrow. Also tomorrow, the eviction moratorium (which covered about a third of renters) will expire, meaning that landlords will soon be able to evict an extra 12 million people for not being able to pay rent. Today, for at least 30 million Americans, the $600-a-week extra unemployment benefits they have been counting on to get them through the pandemic — and which the businesses and landlords that have been taking that money have been counting on to pay their own bills — also ends.
(The federal unemployment benefit actually ended earlier in the week, but everyone agreed to ignore that.)
In other words, it is about to be an absolute shitshow. And rather than doing something to prevent that shitshow by extending the HEROES Act, Republican senators decided on Thursday to blow off for a long weekend.
The Democratic-led House put forward a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill extending the $600-a-week unemployment benefit through January, which Sen. Chuck Schumer attempted to get the Republican-led Senate to vote on twice on Thursday. They refused. Why? Because the Republicans wanted it reduced, arguing that continuing to provide that benefit would result in a "disincentive" for people to work. Where it is that all of these people are supposed to be working, they did not specify.
On Wednesday, Mitch McConnell swung by PBS NewsHour to explain that although Republicans floated a $1 trillion plan this week that would cut benefits by a lot and also, for some reason, secure $1.75 billion for a new FBI building Trump wanted, many of his GOP colleagues kinda just felt like they'd done enough for people already and did not want to spend any more money. Forget negotiating with Democrats, they couldn't even negotiate amongst themselves.
"We're looking at all options," McConnell told PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, including a "more narrow" measure if Congress can't pass the broader, $1 trillion plan Senate Republicans floated this week.
The GOP proposal would reduce extra unemployment benefits for Americans who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Congress included the additional $600 a week payments in a relief package passed in March, but those benefits expire at the end of the month.
Democrats have dismissed the proposal as inadequate, and McConnell acknowledged the plan doesn't have enough support among Senate Republicans to pass.
"About 20 of my members think that we've already done enough," McConnell said, adding that many Republicans were concerned about adding to the national debt.
Their idea was to cut the benefit to $200 a week. That's $800 a month — significantly less than $1,180, the average monthly rent on a two-bedroom apartment in America, which does not leave a whole lot of room for food, or utilities, or other necessities. Democrats who care whether people live or die did not want to vote for that, and neither did the Republicans who were most aggressively apathetic to whether or not people live or die.
The irony is, while Republicans think that lowering the weekly benefit amount will "incentivize" people to find work, it will actually do the opposite. If a person only has enough money to pay for rent and ramen noodles, and barely that, it becomes very difficult to look for work. Not having enough money to cover transportation to job interviews, or having so little money that one is either freaking out or going practically catatonic in despair, is not particularly conducive to finding new employment.
Rather than put anything to a vote, the Senate decided that it would be better to just let stuff expire, leave all of those people in the lurch, and take off on a well-earned long weekend. But they were concerned about whom voters will blame.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, argued that both parties will be blamed for the inaction: "People will just say a pox on all their houses."
And [White House Chief of Staff Mark] Meadows said the president is "on the side of the people" and would be rewarded for it.
"I think if you look at this and you start to focus on the politics instead of the people, you're doing the wrong thing," Meadows told reporters Thursday during a trip to Capitol Hill. "When you're on the side of the people that ultimately vote, that takes care of itself in November or whenever it might be."
Unfortunately, "November" is pretty far away for the 20 million people expected to be evicted from their homes by the end of September.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse