As coronavirus relief aid runs out, one thing is clear: There is no Republican plan to address the worst public health and economic crisis in living memory.

House Democrats passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act 88 days ago, giving the Republican-controlled Senate plenty of time to respond before key benefits expired. But Senate Republican leaders can’t put a bill together that even their own caucus will back, and they don’t appear to be trying to write one that could pass with Democratic votes.

Instead, negotiations have been left to the White House and led by Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a tea party extremist who, as a congressman, engineered a government shutdown in a failed attempt to repeal Obamacare. Predictably, these latest talks have also failed, and in the absence of a COVID relief deal, the Trump administration has made a big show of issuing executive orders that are probably unconstitutional and certainly inadequate to meet the moment.

If ever there were a need for a bipartisan dealmaker in the U.S. Senate, it’s now. Unfortunately, the person who most likes to claim that title, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, has retreated to her partisan corner.

Collins issued a statement over the weekend noting that there are “constitutional limits” to what President Trump can do by executive order, but suggested that the president’s power grab could be just what the negotiations need.

“I hope the president’s actions will prompt Democratic leaders to negotiate seriously to reach a much-needed agreement to help struggling families, seniors, schools, businesses, municipalities and the (United States Postal Service) with this persistent pandemic,” she said.

It’s hard to see how anyone could say that the Democrats are the ones who need to get serious. The House passed its bill May 15, putting an offer on the table. Last week, Democratic negotiators offered to meet the White House in the middle between the $3 trillion House bill and the Republicans’ $1 trillion opening offer. Collins criticized the Democrats for not agreeing to short-term extensions of benefits, but what can the Senate Republicans do in a week that they couldn’t do in nearly three months?

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that there are 15 to 20 members of his 53-member caucus who want to do nothing. They will get their wish unless other Republicans rally around a package that can attract a significant number of Democratic votes in the Senate and then pass the House.

In March, Collins co-authored the Paycheck Protection Program, which gave billions of dollars to small businesses if they refrained from laying off workers. And it received unanimous support.

But with the benefits running out and the economic recovery stalled, Republicans have lost their sense of urgency.

The COVID crisis is not over. We are leading the world in the number of new cases and deaths, and the recession that the virus started started has put more than 30 million Americans out of work, including roughly 80,000 here in Maine.

Without federal aid, schools will not be able to reopen safely, states and municipalities will have to cut services and layoff workers and small businesses will not be able to ride out the economic downturn. And people who have lost their jobs could lose their homes because they don’t have enough money to cover their rent or mortgage payments.

Collins and her Republican colleagues in the Senate are the ones who need to get serious. We are all running out of time.


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