As the appallingly mismanaged coronavirus crisis continues to escalate at a terrifying pace and huge swathes of the country prepare to return to lockdown, the American people are reaching a breaking point.
A staggering one in eight Americans — some 26 million people — report that they “sometimes or often” do not have enough food to eat during the week; 20 million are dependent on unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of December. Nearly 7% of the population is still unemployed; some nine million jobs have been lost since the start of the crisis while the economy is recovering them half as fast as it was projected to.
Many of those jobs will never return — and the grim truth is that they likely were never great jobs to begin with in a post-Great Recession economy that largely created insecure, low-paying, and low benefit jobs in the first place.
Efforts to rush desperately needed relief to the American people have been continuously killed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who reaches new depths of stunning depravity and senseless cruelty with every rejected proposal. He has made it clear no bill will hit the President’s desk without a liability shield for corporations, ensuring that they cannot be sued if unsafe working conditions cause their employees to be exposed to COVID-19.
This is an outrageous demand to make during the middle of a pandemic, especially after we’ve already seen companies like Smithfield take no action as a coronavirus outbreak infected 238 of their workers at a South Dakota facility and plant managers at Tyson Foods take cash bets on how many of their workers would fall sick with the disease.
Democrats are unwilling to give McConnell and his corporate buddies the shield they want so dearly, but the gamble to delay accepting a relief offer until after the 2020 election in hopes of seizing control of the Senate did not pay off and the Dems have now been backed into a corner.
As the deadline for a must-pass government funding bill and the end of the legislative session looms, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is once again doing what he has spent his entire career doing — taking a stand for working Americans.
Senator Sanders briefly threatened to hold up the government funding bill unless the rest of his colleagues agreed to send the American people a $1200 direct payment, but withdrew his objection to allow a one-week stopgap funding bill to pass.
But he warned his colleagues that he would not do so next week — and warned that nobody would be going home for Christmas until the American people got some desperately needed relief.
“I am prepared to withdraw my objection at this moment, but I will not be prepared to withdraw an objection next week,” Sanders said. “We will deal with the financial crisis facing tens of millions of Americans…We’re not going to go home for the Christmas holidays unless we provide for the millions of families in this country who are suffering!” said the Vermont Senator in a Friday floor speech.
Members of Congress cannot go back to our families for the holidays when children in the richest country on Earth are going hungry and millions are scared to death of eviction.
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) December 11, 2020
Sen. Hawley echoed Sanders’ words in a speech of his own. “It would be a dereliction of duty if Congress adjourns for Christmas without having a vote on providing working families with direct payments. Working people are struggling. And they should be the first people given relief, not last. The crisis of rising unemployment claims, ever-expanding food lines, evictions, and growing credit card debt has been staring us in the face for months. It’s time we do something about it and provide emergency relief to Americans.”
How the master of brinkmanship Mitch McConnell will respond to Sanders’ threat remains to be seen. “Let’s see what happens,” said Bernie Sanders to reporters following the speech.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.