There are more than a few Grinches trying to steal Christmas this year, but we fear the ending will not be quite as redeeming as the one Dr. Seuss wrote for his 1957 children’s book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” when the original Grinch’s “small heart grew three sizes that day” and he returned all the gifts, food and decorations he’d just stolen from the Whos in Whoville.
Instead, it is looking more likely than not that these Grinches will remain small hearted while millions of Americans face the prospect of a winter holiday season spent missing family members who have died from COVID-19, trying to avoid catching or spreading a virus that has killed more 1.7 million people (including nearly 3,000 U.S. health care workers) and struggling to pay their rent, make their mortgage payments, put food on their tables and buy gifts for their children.
And just who are these Grinches? The list is long, but at the very top are Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and every single Republican representative and senator who has been playing politics instead of helping the people they’re elected to represent during the worst public health crisis of our time — seemingly more concerned with ramming through lifetime judicial appointments and giving weight to the president’s empty lies about a “stolen election” than they are with passing meaningful pandemic relief.
Let’s start with the Republicans, especially McConnell, who held up pandemic relief efforts for more than six months while their constituents continued to suffer.
On May 15, 2020, the House passed a $3 trillion stimulus package known as the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or “Heroes Act.” The legislation would have sent $1 trillion to state, local and tribal governments that were already, even back in May, trying to figure out how to make up for revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic and pay for essential services like firefighters, police, libraries and road maintenance.
It would have given $200 billion in hazard pay to essential workers risking their lives to provide essential services to the public during this pandemic; provided $75 billion for COVID-19 testing and tracing (which could have helped prevent the surges we’ve experienced in the summer and fall months and maybe prevented the most current round of business shutdowns); sent a second round of $1,200 payments to individuals, including children; given $10 billion worth of grants to small business owners adversely impacted by the pandemic and COVID-prevention shutdowns; preserved health insurance coverage for Americans who had lost their employer-provided insurance during the pandemic; extended the $600 weekly benefits to unemployed workers who are only making about half their normal wages while receiving unemployment benefits; given $175 billion to families struggling to pay their rents, mortgages and/or utility bills; increased food assistance for individuals and families who were having a tough time buying food during the pandemic; and added an extra layer of protection to safeguard the election, the U.S. Postal Service and the 2020 U.S. Census during these unprecedented times.
Our own congresswoman, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler voted against the Heroes Act. In fact, only one Republican, Rep. Peter King of New York, voted for its passage.
“To me, it’s a matter of survival,” King said after voting to approve the Heroes Act, “and I know maybe people are concerned about primaries or what party leadership is going to say, but the reality is, you’re elected to Congress to represent your district … and in many ways it is life or death … this is a natural disaster, and the money has to come in.”
McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky — a state that rates among the 20 worst states for average daily COVID cases right now — would not even consider bringing the Heroes Act up for a vote in the Senate, calling any COVID relief bill that did not include a liability shield for large corporations “dead on arrival.”
House Democrats passed a slimmed-down version of the Heroes Act again in early October, but McConnell blocked that one, too, saying the legislation — which would have sent $436 billion to state, local and tribal governments to pay for frontline workers including emergency medical responders, public health workers, police and firefighters; and also provided $1,200 direct payments to individuals — but that again refused to protect corporations from lawsuits over worker safety during the pandemic — was “unserious.”
This month, Congress managed to get a bipartisan relief package pulled together just in the nick of time for people who are days away from losing their unemployment benefits and for families who have spent nearly nine months trying to make ends meet during the worst public health crisis in our lifetime.
The $900 billion coronavirus relief package is more than three times smaller than the original Heroes Act and will not provide nearly as much financial relief to frontline workers, families or small business owners, but it will help millions of people make it through another few weeks of this unrelenting pandemic.
So, of course, what does our president — a man who has spent much of the past few months golfing, avoiding work, lying about election fraud, pardoning a convicted child murderer and rejecting his own public health advisors’ recommended COVID-prevention measures after downplaying the virus and claiming several times that it would “just disappear” — do after hearing that there’s a bipartisan relief bill? He throws a wrench in the works and says he won’t sign it unless it offers more money to individuals and families.
And while Trump’s insistence that legislators increase the proposed $600 direct payments to individuals up to $2,000 per person might seem like a Christmas gift, it is, at its best, just a ploy to make himself look better on his way out of the White House and, at its worst, a way to gunk up the process and force legislators to go back to the drawing board after Republicans again say no to the bigger individual payments progressive Democrats have been pushing for since the beginning — causing the relief package to not be passed in time to help the 12 million who will lose their unemployment benefits after Christmas.
Let’s all hope, for our country’s sake, that the Grinches who are trying to steal Christmas will realize the true meaning of the holiday, “find the strength of 10 Grinches plus two” and get Americans some desperately needed relief before the new year.
UPDATE: On Dec. 23, Trump vetoed the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act, a $740 billion defense bill that would give military members pay raises and hazard-duty benefits.
“Disturbingly, Trump is using his final hours in office to sow chaos, including by denying our servicemembers a long-overdue pay raise and hazard duty pay; our families paid family leave, child care, housing and health protections; and our veterans the benefits that they need and deserve,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a statement released Dec. 23.
The move shows that Trump also may make good on his threat to veto the COVID-19 stimulus bill if legislators don’t add the $2,000 individual payments he called for at the last minute. (Just a reminder that many Democrats have been advocating for $2,000 monthly relief checks to help Americans get through the pandemic since May.)
On Christmas Eve morning, House Republicans blocked Democratic leaders’ attempts to get the $2,000 stimulus payments the president said he wants to see in the pandemic relief bill.
“If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” Pelosi said on Christmas Eve.
Meanwhile, Trump has left the White House and headed to his sunny Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for the holidays, where he will likely be golfing and preparing for his annual New Year’s Eve party, while millions of American families hunker down to help prevent even more COVID-19 deaths this winter, spend Christmas without their own extended families and continue to wait for even one ray of sunshine during this long, dark chapter in our country’s history.