A funny thing happened in Washington this week.
A bipartisan group of moderate United States Senators and members of the House of Representatives came together to endorse a compromise plan for another round of Covid-19 relief.
Imagine that. Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate members, agreeing on a “give-a-little/get-a-little” framework to help the country during the worst of the pandemic.
The proposal comes after months of on again, off again negotiations among Congressional leaders and the White House that have failed to produce a deal.
The price tag for this compromise plan is $900 billion. That is about twice what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants, but less than half of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is backing.
West Virginia’s Joe Manchin is one of the leaders of the compromise bill, citing the pending departure of Congress later this month for the holidays. “It’s inexcusable for us to leave town and not have an agreement,” he said at a Tuesday news conference.
He is right, and so are the rest of the members of Congress who believe that additional help for individuals, businesses and states suffering financially is necessary.
The compromise framework would restore the additional unemployment benefit that expired last summer, but at the $300-a-week rate for 18 weeks rather than $600. It also includes $160 billion for state, local and tribal governments and $228 billion for small businesses.
West Virginia’s economy has improved since the shutdown earlier this year, but that does not mean everything is back to normal. Far from it. About 75,000 West Virginians are still receiving some sort of unemployment benefit, and the CARES Act, which provides additional pandemic aid, is set to expire at the end of this month.
Small businesses are the backbone of West Virginia’s economy, making up 99 percent of all businesses in the state. Many are mom and pop operations that eke out a living under normal circumstances, so the pandemic has left them in survival mode. Many just will not make it.
We know how Washington works now. Neither party wants to do anything substantial that also benefits the opposing party. That is all part of the tribal politics of today. But while legislative leaders count heads and scheme for the next election, folks across the country are suffering.
The restaurant employee who has not been able to return to work and the dry cleaner who has seen their business drop by half are not concerned about the next election or who gets credit for what; they are worried about mounting bills and depleted savings.
The compromise framework backed by Manchin and his fellow moderates represents an overdue response to the needs of the country. Congress must move quickly on this or a similar bill, otherwise the already bleak winter ahead will be even more difficult.