Twelve million households with children didn’t have enough to eat last week. 13.6 million workers are still unemployed. 200,000 people are dead.
In response to the staggering human suffering the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not brought a meaningful pandemic relief bill to the floor for a vote in six months.
The Senate could have taken up the House-passed HEROES Act, which provided trillions of dollars’ worth of direct cash payments, rental assistance, money for struggling states and cities, and so much more. Or Majority Leader McConnell could have proposed a viable alternative and negotiated in good faith to reach an outcome that would ensure millions of families, especially Black and Brown families, continue to be able to pay the rent and keep food on the table. Yet instead, as he let these months slip away, children went hungry, families lost their homes, small businesses laid off workers and many went under. And 200,000 people died.
Unfortunately, when it comes to addressing big problems impacting children and families, inaction from the Majority Leader is nothing new. During this Congress, the House has passed dozens of bills that would do great things for children and families, including raising the minimum wage, enhancing background checks for gun purchases, and providing housing help for youth aging out of foster care. In each case, the Senate has declined even to consider the legislation.
During a summer of protests over the violent police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many more, a national reckoning over systemic and institutional racism and ongoing violence against Black people, and amidst a global pandemic which is disproportionately taking the lives and livelihoods of Black families and other families of color, Majority Leader McConnell put forward a woefully inadequate COVID relief bill as a political stunt and, after it failed on the Senate floor, dropped the issue altogether.
200,000 Americans dead from COVID-19 and millions more marching for racial justice did not move Mitch McConnell to act, but one death on the Supreme Court propelled him into action. Just hours after Justice Ginsburg died, Majority Leader McConnell was rallying his troops in preparation for one of the quickest and most controversial Supreme Court confirmations ever.
Why the urgency? In the short term, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Affordable Care Act can remain in place and, by extension, whether millions of children will lose their health coverage in the middle of a pandemic. It will decide whether the government can ban discrimination in the child welfare system and whether courts can impose sentences of life without parole on children. In the long term, the court will have the power to uphold or strike down progressive efforts to help the poor, expand civil rights, and reform our democracy.
Majority Leader McConnell’s lightning-fast push for a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court is an extension of his refusal to consider legislation that would help struggling families and fight systemic racism and police brutality. His mission in this confirmation fight is to ensure the same values and ideals that have stopped him from taking action to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans are enshrined into the highest court in the land long after he’s gone.
We can’t afford to let this happen. The Senate should reset its priorities and immediately take care of the people it represents by passing meaningful COVID relief rather than focusing on the Supreme Court vacancy that nearly 6 in 10 Americans believe should be filled by the president elected in November.