Congress: Pass a coronavirus relief bill now | Editorial
The pandemic is surging, Americans are hurting and they’ve waited long enough
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky listens as Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., speaks during a news conference with other Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. (Rod Lamkey/Pool via AP)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky listens as Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., speaks during a news conference with other Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. (Rod Lamkey/Pool via AP) [ ROD LAMKEY - POOL VIA CNP | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 17, 2020

Democrats and Republicans seemed near agreement Thursday on another much-needed coronavirus relief bill, and Congress could vote as soon as today. The package rightly focuses on the essentials — direct payments, unemployment aid and assistance to hard-hit businesses. These are core investments that will help needy Americans and shore up the economy in the short-term. Congress needs to approve the bill, even if it falls short in many areas.

Top negotiators have coalesced around a $900 billion package, more than what leading Republicans have supported in recent months but less than what Democratic leaders demanded. It includes a new round of $600 stimulus payments to most Americans, $300 weekly in supplemental federal unemployment assistance and $300 billion in aid to businesses. The measure also includes billions for rental and food assistance and funding for schools, hospitals and the U.S. Postal Service, along with money to help further distribute vaccines.

The timing is as important here as the relief itself. Millions of Americans lost their jobs as businesses closed to contain the pandemic. With infections and hospitalizations surging across the country, many states and communities are taking a step back and imposing new restrictions as the crisis flares this holiday season. Democrats initially sought a $2 trillion-plus package that also would have provided tens of billions of dollars to state and local governments, while Republicans insisted on liability waivers for businesses and other institutions facing COVID-19 lawsuits.

Both sides were right to relent. Millions of Americans face immediate problems, unable to pay the rent, cover food or utilities or afford transportation. Putting cash into the hands of Americans will churn money quickly through the economy. Extended jobless aid will help millions of Americans buy precious time to stabilize their household finances. And another round of assistance to struggling businesses will help keep millions of Americans employed, housed and fed, and taxes circulating through local communities. The weekly unemployment numbers announced Thursday — which showed 885,000 people applied for jobless benefits for the first time, the most since early September — only underscored how badly many Americans are hurting.

That it took so long — and for the crisis to get so bad — before congressional leaders finally arrived at a deal is shameful. President-elect Joe Biden has signaled for weeks that this round was a stop-gap measure and that another relief package would be likely in the spring. Now it’s time for President Donald Trump to put aside his grievances over losing reelection to get this package over the finish line. There are no more significant trade-offs to negotiate. Congress needs to approve this package and send it the president, who should insist that there is no higher political priority in Washington than getting this deal done.

This is how compromises work, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike can return home for the holidays content they finally helped their neediest constituents.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news