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Bill Straub: Paul says money doesn’t grow on trees; so, McConnell, what do you think of El Presidente now?

Parsing the permutations of the COVID-19 relief bill is akin to fiddling with a Rubik’s cube while blindfolded in a darkened room. After months of wrangling, insults, scare tactics, hyperbole and additional nonsense – you know, de rigueur — Congress this week passed a $900 billion aid package attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus bill intended to fund government operations through the end of the fiscal year.

The measure passed both chambers to the great relief of everyone save our pal, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, who, during this season of wishing peace on earth and good will toward all, sure makes it hard for a body to comply. He opposed the legislation in his own, convoluted, smug and tin-eared way that endears him to all, but it appeared for at least a little while that some economic help for needy families was headed toward the pipeline.

Then, of course, during a Twitter rant circulated Tuesday night, President Donald J. Trump, aka Loser, who has apparently been spending a majority of his waning moments in the White House plotting to overthrow the upcoming legitimately-elected government, weighed in with a veto threat, insisting that the $600 government checks slated for distribution to millions of Americans under the bill was insufficient – make it more like $2,000 – and that the funding that didn’t have anything to do with COVID relief in the legislation needed to be excised.

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

Now, a couple of things. If the president wanted eligible recipients to receive more than the paltry $600 contained in the legislation, why didn’t someone mention this pertinent fact during the negotiations? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said the question was posed several times regarding Trump’s thoughts on the matter and said inquiry was regularly ignored, even though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was regularly consulted. Democrats, of course, would be thrilled to endorse Trump’s $2,000 suggestion.

And was El Presidente, who lost his re-election bid by more than 7 million votes to Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3, as you may have heard, not advised that the COVID relief bill was part of an omnibus package to keep the federal government humming along at its usual genial pace, thus warranting the inclusion of various funding measures?

The answer to the first question is obvious – Trump is gigging Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’” McConnell, of Louisville, for leaving the reservation when it comes to his non-existent re-election prospects.

You may have heard that his Orange Eminence believes he actually won the election – “by a lot” – even though he has had a difficult time convincing anyone with operational grey matter of his claim. Trump has been bellowing “fraud,’’ “rigged election’’ and other ridiculous assertions ever since the ballot counting started going against him. Yet he has failed to get any courtroom in the country or election official to see things in his wacked-out fashion.

For good reason.

Ol’ Mitch, in his usual too-clever-by-half manner, played along with this obviously disturbed individual’s fantasy, hoping to get the poor, troubled soul to continue to walk the straight and narrow on the GOP agenda. McConnell is particularly concerned – since it involves his power, the lone issue that interests him – about the run-off elections involving two party members from Georgia with the Senate majority potentially on the line.

Things were chugging along until the Electoral College met last week and determined that, yeah, Joe Biden collected 306 electoral votes when all he needed was 270 to become the next president to be sworn in on Jan. 20. McConnell, with no alternative but to face the inevitable, acknowledged that Trump had unfortunately fallen short and Biden was indeed destined for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Let’s just say El Presidente did not take the turn of events very well. He obviously, as is his manner, sought a way to extract a pound of flesh from McConnell’s carcass for his back-stabbing and apparently settled on perhaps tossing the COVID-19 relief bill back into the chaos from whence it emerged.

Trump hasn’t made it official yet and he may still back off, although it’s anyone’s guess who might talk him off the ledge. He’s already vetoed a $750 billion defense policy bill because, among other things, it sought to change the names of military bases dedicated to Confederate loyalists, like Ft. Bragg. Word is there are enough votes to override but the prez has shown in the past he has the ability to scare the bejeezus out of weak-kneed Republican lawmakers (in other words, almost all of them), so we’ll soon find out if they cringe once again.

Regardless, it’s downright hard to feel too sorry for Mitch through all this tumult. The House passed and sent to the Senate in May a second COVID aid bill, totaling $3 trillion, aimed at providing some financial assistance to state and local governments, coronavirus testing and a new round of direct payments to needy individuals. McConnell, who’s never been wild about pandemic relief, sat on the measure like Henry VIII on his throne, refusing to budge even after the lower chamber reworked the proposal, offering up a new bill at half the cost.

McConnell instead taunted Senate Democrats with a woefully inadequate counter proposal knowing they wouldn’t – and couldn’t — accept. He finally got down to brass tacks but held up any possible agreement by insisting on a provision granting businesses protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits. He finally called it quits on that proposition after Democrats agreed to back off calls for aid to state and local governments.

So McConnell’s delaying tactics have put pressure on working families trying to navigate their way through the pandemic. And the result will be less money for their sinking budgets than what’s required. Now the Trumpster is throwing an additional monkey wrench into the works, causing further delays over a bleak Christmas.

Then, as previously noted, there’s Paul, who hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory over the past few weeks. He continues to dismiss and mock the idea of wearing cloth masks to help ward off the spread of COVID-19 – despite the claims of every imaginable epidemiologist who maintains it’s the best way short of a vaccine to get the crisis under some sort of control. And lately he’s gone around supporting Trump’s crackpot notions about a stolen election, asserting at a Senate hearing that “the fraud happened, the election in many ways was stolen.”

In neither case did he offer a smidgen of factual support.

Now Paul’s characterizing the COVID relief package as a “monstrous spending bill’’ and a “deficits don’t matter disaster.”

Governors and mayors who implement safety precautions to limit the spread are, in Paul’s world, “tin pot dictators” when all they’re trying to do is protect a public during an extreme crisis. He adds that the bill, supported by a majority of Republicans, is nothing less than socialism.

“If free money were the answer, if money really grew on trees, why not give more free money?” he asked on the Senate floor, before his gold buddy Trump barged in to demand more free money. “Why not give it out all the time? Why stop at $600 a person? Why not a thousand dollars? Why not $2,000? Maybe these new free money republicans should join the everyone gets a free income caucus.”

Paul’s real problem is the bill’s impact on the deficit, which didn’t stop him from voting for an awful tax-cut-for-the-rich measure a few years ago that added at least $1 trillion to the nation’s debt.

“If you’re looking for more COVID bail-out money we don’t have any,” he said. “The coffers are bare. We have no rainy-day fund. We have no savings account. Congress has spent all the money long ago. The economic damage from this pandemic is not the reason for this runaway spending. This spending has been going on for decades.”

Now, to be fair, Trump was right in maintaining the $600 distribution check was too meager and $2,000 was more appropriate. He just needed to say so earlier when something could be done. And Paul is right that the deficit is a potential problem that will have to be dealt with at some point.

But currently interest rates are low and people are suffering. The only entity with a life saver of sufficient size to do any is the federal government. Opening up the economy, as Paul suggests, would only lead to an increased spread of a virus that has already taken almost 330,000 lives, a number greater than the population of the city of Lexington. More than 2,700 have perished in the Commonwealth, greater than the population of the city of Flemingsburg.

According to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, there are more than 114,000 Kentuckians collecting unemployment benefits, many of them without work because of the pandemic. The plan will provide a boost of about $300 per week. In addition, more than 20 percent of Kentuckians who rent their residence are behind on payments.

“The bill includes important nutrition  components that provide $13 billion nationally to address hunger,” the center said. “Elements include an increase in SNAP benefits by 15% through June 30, 2021, support for food banks and expanded senior food aid. Nearly one in five  Kentucky adults with kids say their children aren’t eating enough because they cannot afford it.”

The $600 checks, though inadequate, will be a major boost to the Commonwealth’s economy, bringing in an estimated $2 -$3 billion.

And I can tell you money doesn’t grow on trees. If it did I would have a grove in my backyard. In addition to not being much of a senator, Paul ain’t much of a dendrologist either.

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One Comment

  1. Wee Wally says:

    It seems in reaction to the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution that we caqn now look forward to the US’s Orange Devolution.

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