Insanity, famously, is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results each time. To which I say: The people running this country might be out of their goddamned minds.
It's been almost nine months to the day since Congress passed the CARES Act coronavirus relief bill, with its onetime payment of $1,200 per person — a laughable pittance intended by the powers that be to somehow carry the nation through its worst public health-cum-economic crisis in 100 years. And now, with the COVID-19 pandemic surging still to new heights, Congress and the White House are somehow bungling one of the easiest, most obvious solutions to both stem the viral tide and ease the catastrophic financial impact the disease has wrought: paying people to stay home.
After months of staccato negotiations between congressional Democrats, Republicans, and the White House in various configurations, the Democratic leadership ultimately backed down from the initial $3 trillion relief package passed by the House last spring, essentially capitulating to the vastly lower GOP proposal of less than $1 trillion in COVID-19. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi justified it as "an emergency supplemental" rather than a "stimulus bill," and the whole thing was likely pushed along in no small part by President-elect Joe Biden. So, with just days to go before Congress's scheduled Christmas break, lawmakers scrambled to pass a truly deranged Frankenstein of a relief bill packed with all sorts of bizarre non-sequiturs, like NASCAR tax breaks and the decriminalization of taking water chestnuts from one state to another.
Oh, and paying people to stay home so they aren't forced to go to work and potentially spread coronavirus? Despite the best efforts of some of the weirdest bipartisan pairings imaginable, direct relief checks went down from $1,200 this spring to just 600 bucks per person this time around, and extended unemployment insurance was similarly halved. After months of zero governmental help, one potential relief package recipient put it bluntly to Mic:
A $600 stimulus check is not enough by far. It should be $2,000 at least and it should have paralleled the Canadian $2,000 for every month during the pandemic. Any less is a joke.
Enter: President Trump.
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple," the president declared in a video posted Tuesday night to Twitter. In the clip, he heavily implied — but stopped short of stating outright — that he would veto the relief package, which has passed both the House and the Senate.
Now, with just days to go before Congress is scheduled to break for the year, and with time running out on Trump's term in office, we've reached a bizarre moment when congressional Democrats are now playing catch-up to the president's increased stimulus demands, despite the very real possibility that Senate Republicans will scuttle the entire thing, despite the damaging political repercussions likely to ensure. And the whole thing might be happening just because Trump is mad at Mitch McConnell.
Which brings us right back to where we started: millions of Americans struggling financially, the pandemic ravaging the country, and no aid from the federal government despite constant saber-rattling and stuttered negotiations. So, once again, lawmakers are getting ready to do this same dance they've done for the better part of the past year, and hope against hope that this time things will be different. That seems, quite literally, insane.