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Bill Straub: Count reasons for McConnell’s disdain for $2,000 stimulus checks; maybe 30 million of them

There’s been considerable talk recently on the subject of Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell and how he has somehow amassed great power even though he is publicly viewed to be about as popular as a heart attack.

The discussion was spawned by the Louisville lawmaker’s successful effort to return the U.S. Supreme Court to the legal underpinnings it maintained before the war – the Civil War, that is – as well as his bulldog opposition to providing needy families trapped by the COVID-19 pandemic a government check for $2,000 to see them through – that opposition coming from a man with an estimated net worth of $30 million, meaning he probably doesn’t have to worry about where his kids are going to get their next meal.

There are, in fact, so many examples of McConnell’s skullduggery that the testimony could fill volumes. Obviously, many people around the country, whether it be on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or whatever, are aghast and wondering how such a misanthrope has managed to scratch his way to the top of the Republican heap.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

Any number of rational answers can be rightfully considered. But in this instance, stealing a notion from the great Conan Doyle, the reason can be found hiding in plain sight: Mitch simply doesn’t give a rat’s behind about what you or anyone else thinks.

And he doesn’t have to. It’s his indifference to right and wrong, and his willingness to play Snidely Whiplash, that has ironically provided him with the keys to the kingdom.

Think about it. In every instance, dating back to his time as minority leader during the Obama administration, McConnell has consistently taken the nastiest option, whether it be blocking the agenda of the nation’s first African-American president just because he could, to literally stealing seats on the high court with no regard to expectations of fair play.

He’s done it all in face of wilting condemnation, providing only a series of inane rationales for his underhanded achievements. And old Mitch has gotten away with it because he really just doesn’t care that people despise him from West Quoddy Head Light in Maine to Honolulu. In fact, he feeds off it, which is why he embraces and thinks it funny that folks refer to him as the Grim Reaper and Darth Vader.

Accepting, even celebrating, disdain is counter-intuitive, an unusual characteristic for any politician. Those in the profession generally seek to attract the love and support of their constituents, thus assuring them of a decent chance of retaining their positions after Election Day. McConnell could care less. He knows that Kentucky voters, with a long history of voting against their own self-interest, will return him to the Senate every six years. They’re not doing it because of his George Clooney good looks or his sparkling personality, they do it because he rails against abortion and promises folks they can keep their guns – even buy more – regardless of caliber or firepower.

It’s not hard to figure out. He’s been doing it since 1984.

And that is principally why ol’ Root-‘n-Branch has set the standard for the longest tenure as Senate Republican leader in the nation’s history. He can do and say things to incur the public’s wrath without a care in the world while protecting his fellow GOP lawmakers from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, all in pursuit of the only possession he holds dear – power.

Take the $2,000 question.

A vast number of Americans have found themselves in dire financial straits for better than nine months as a result of the COVID-19 spread that has cost going on 350,000 lives. There is legitimate suffering in the United States and elsewhere – the pandemic has caused the largest global recession in history.

Despite all that, McConnell, for reasons unclear, was lukewarm about a second economic stimulus as a follow up to legislation adopted last March. He was particularly unenthusiastic about any provision providing a direct payment to needy families, who could then use the cash to pay rent, buy groceries, make a car payment and address various financial obligations that have fallen into arrears.

The House passed a second stimulus in May but McConnell left it gathering dust on his desk throughout the summer and fall, finally conceding to the inevitable when the situation grew even more desperate. After much haggling, negotiators finally settled on a $600 government check for needy, qualified families.

It was apparent from the get-go that $600 would prove insufficient. A poll from Insider and SurveyMonkey backed that up, with 62 percent asserting the amount was too small, with $1,500 coming in as the favored amount.

So after both legislative chambers passed the negotiated agreement, President Donald J. Trump, aka Loser, who you may have heard lost his re-election campaign, decided to chime in, insisting the $600 was too stingy and recommending that Congress go along with the $2,000 stimulus.

Now there is, of course a back story to all this. McConnell has spent the past three-plus years playing pat-a-cake with our toddler of a president, going along with his imbecilic plans and whining in order to curry favor. That buddy-buddy system came to a screeching halt when Mitch, after weeks of delay, finally acknowledged that Democrat Joe Biden was destined to be the next president of the United States.

Trump, being the infant terrible that he is, took offense and started gnawing away at his former BFF, suggesting they ought to switch the deal and raise the $600 to $2,000. The Democrat-controlled House, which always wanted a higher stimulus check anyway, jumped on the proposal like, as my old friend Gary Webb used to say, a hungry dog on a bone.

That left the issue up to the Senate where skinflint Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, wanted nothing to do with it. But several GOP lawmakers, fearing future political repercussions, jumped ship and expressed a willingness to play ball.

Naturally, ol’ Root-‘n-Branch stepped in to take the hit, objecting to calling the proposed increase to $2,000 up for consideration. That saved lawmakers with the disposition of Henry F. Potter from having to cast a negative vote on a popular piece of legislation while allowing others, with an eye on their future political prospects, to assure constituents they would have voted for it had McConnell not gotten in the way.

That includes two candidates involved in a Jan. 5 run-off for a pair of closely watched Senate seats in Georgia — Sen. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler – who can now say without fear of contradiction that they would have supported the provision if given the opportunity.

By refusing to consider the measure McConnell denies Democrats an obvious victory. And all it cost was any positive public perception he might maintain, which already was in the toilet. But he gets to exercise his power – the only sacred thing – and receive the thanks of GOP lawmakers who didn’t want to tale a tough political vote.

His rationale was, of course, laughable. “The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help,” McConnell said on the Senate floor, adding that the proposal had “no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.” 

Despite Mitch’s claim, it’s looking like the package could attract enough votes – 60 – to avoid a filibuster, with all 48 Democrats and independents going for it, the number of Republicans expressing support is approaching the magic 12, including Perdue and Loeffler.

Instead, McConnell has decided to play games. He introduced legislation on Tuesday tying the $2,000 proposal to a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects internet companies from legal liability for user-generated content and has nothing to do with providing aide in face of a pandemic. It also includes a study of voter fraud, which has emerged as Trump’s pet issue since his overwhelming defeat.

The $2,000 check proposal, according to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, would result in a $5.3 billion boost to Kentucky economy, assistance for families in a commonwealth where 43 percent of the kids were low-income even before the pandemic and deposit $1.4 billion into the pockets of those making less than $19,600 a year.

Such an effort would be of great help to a state that features five of the nation’s 10 poorest counties – Owsley, Wolfe, McCreary, Jackson and Clay.

But don’t bother Mitch and his $30 million greenback friends. He just doesn’t care.

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  1. Richard says:

    USA Today headline:

    Stimulus $2,000 payments will add $464 billion to the debt burden on our children.

    You could make a pretty good argument that the democrats don’t give a ‘rats behind’ (to use your words), about America’s future. They want stimulus checks to go to every American, even those that don’t need them. Many Americans are still working and dont need this money. Democrats are playing politics, as usual.

    Folks should check out the ‘Getting America Back to Work Act’, sponsored by republican, Josh Hawley.

  2. Lynn says:

    Senator McConnell gave double-digit tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires but refuses to provide funds for our cities, towns, counties and states for schools, providing vaccines, inspecting nursing homes, first-responders and other community needs.

    If he had followed Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats and passed the HEROES bill in May, we would not have millions unemployed and facing eviction and hunger. We would have built a better vaccination system.

    The $2,000 — only for two-person households under $150,000/year, not everyone — might not be necessary if we had unemployment insurance that reached the 20 million without jobs now or rental assistance for the 20 million facing eviction but McConnell blocked that bill too.

    We learned from the 2008 recession that too little investment in state and lcoal government keeps the financial pain going a lot longer than a quick infusion when we are in acute situation. Our economic recovery will drag on because McConnell and the GOP refused to invest in relief when the situation was desperate.

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