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Enough games, find compromise to pass coronavirus relief bill

Both major parties in Washington have now supplied themselves with political cover heading into the election should Congress fail to agree on a desperately needed additional coronavirus relief package. That's not enough. They need to find a path to compromise. In other words, they need to do their jobs.

In May, Democrats passed a massive relief package estimated at $3.5 trillion, which the leadership of the Republican Senate dismissed as dead on arrival. Months were squandered because Republican senators could not agree on the scope of a counterproposal.

This month, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces reelection in Kentucky, finally got enough Republican senators lined up to introduce what has been labeled the "skinny bill," a $650 billion proposal that is a fraction of what Democrats argue is necessary. It also contained a provision many Democrats consider unacceptable; immunity from lawsuits for businesses should employees return to work, become infected with the coronavirus, and blame inadequate workplace protections.

The relief bill, to the surprise of no one, died in the 100-member Senate earlier this month when it fell eight votes short of the 60 necessary for cloture and moving the legislation forward.

So Democratic senators facing re-election can now argue their party had a major relief bill ready for approval since May, but Republicans were unwilling to support an expenditure anywhere close to what was necessary. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer dismissed the skinny bill as actually "emaciated."

Vulnerable Republican senators, meanwhile, can point to their legislation and blame Democrats for refusing to work with the GOP and President Trump. "Washington Democrats really care more about hurting President Trump than helping them through a crisis," McConnell said.

It is this kind of cynical game playing that leaves Americans so frustrated with, and disillusioned about, Washington politics.

However, if our elected leaders, who are supposed to be serving us, have any interest in actually getting something done, a path appears open.

The Republican bill contained many provisions that Democrats support.

It would have provided another round of the Paycheck Protection Program, the most successful of the relief programs in keeping workers employed. The Republican bill would have provided for forgivable loans up to $2 million to firms with 300 or fewer workers and that have seen revenue drops of 35% or more year-over year. (Full disclosure, The Day participated in the earlier PPP.)

The GOP Senate bill carried $31 billion for development and distribution of vaccines, drugs and medical supplies, $16 billion for contact tracing, $105 billion in relief for colleges and K-12 schools, $20 billion for farmers, $500 million for the commercial fishing and seafood industries.

It called to extend a $300 boost in weekly unemployment benefits through year's end, half of the $600 add-on included in the original relief bill, which the Democratic House wanted to continue, but far better than zero.

The Republican proposal, however, came up critically short in offering no aid to states that have seen their tax revenues plummet due to the COVID-19 induced recession; no housing assistance to forestall a crisis of homelessness; and no additional food assistance.

The White House has sent signals it could back a package as high a $1.5 trillion, if McConnell can keep enough Republican senators inline. Democrats may have to win the election to provide the state relief they see as necessary, but they should seek to work with McConnell and the Trump administration to find compromise spending totals for the areas they agree on.

Republicans, in turn, should be willing to set aside in a different bill the question of business liability protection. And Democrats should take a page from the Republican bill and agree to budget cuts elsewhere to offset at least some of the cost of the relief package.

We urge Connecticut's senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, to place a higher priority on finding a road to compromise than on positioning their party for the election. Both Democrats, neither Connecticut senator is up for election this year.

Time is running short. Soon all legislative business will be set aside to focus on the election. Congress needs to make good use of that time.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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