A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Kentucky, like many other states, needs stimulus package from the Feds, but it’s not in sight

It’s fair to say, seven months in and counting, that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been at all kind to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

According to Jason Bailey, executive director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, more than 40 percent of the state’s residents have lost household employment income as a result of the ongoing crisis. One out of every four Kentuckians finds himself or herself behind on the rent, some unalterably, and one out of every eight reports that family members aren’t getting enough to eat.

Kentucky, which has never been an economic powerhouse, is witnessing new job lay-offs – the coal industry is simply no longer viable. Positions that were supposed to be lost temporarily are becoming permanently gone with the wind and businesses, like restaurants, are closing for good.

And, of course, there are the almost 78,000 Kentuckians who have suffered from the modern-day plague and the 1,255 who have died.

The situation would be more dire were it not for the federal aid that has come flowing into the state — $2.41 billion under the CARES Act adopted by Congress in late March. A substantial portion of it, $1.59 billion, goes to state government to help it cover virus-related expenses.

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

“The COVID-19 pandemic threatens the lives and well-being of Kentuckians and the resulting closure of large sectors of the economy affects jobs, income and the ability to meet basic needs,’’ the center noted in a staff report released last month. “Proactive state and federal policy responses are crucial to save lives and protect economic security.”

With no end in sight — the Commonwealth on Monday reported the highest number of new cases of the coronavirus in a single day with 1,275 – Kentucky, like most other states, is running on fumes. Anna Bauman with the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy recently wrote that many families are likely to experience problems paying their heating bills during the depth of Winter. Meanwhile, “keeping the lights on, food on the table, and rent paid are the primary concerns of families right now.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell said as recently as Tuesday warned that insufficient support from the federal government could carry risks to the nation’s economy.

“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said. “Over time, household insolvencies and business bankruptcies would rise, harming the productive capacity of the economy and holding back wage growth. By contrast, the risks of overdoing it seem, for now, to be smaller. Even if policy actions ultimately prove to be greater than needed, they will not go to waste.”

In other words, send help.

For what it’s worth, the House has passed what would be a third stimulus bill, worth $3 trillion, providing funding for state and local governments, coronavirus testing and a new round of direct payments to needy individuals.

Of course, that was voted on and sent to the Senate in May – five months ago. It has sat, with no chance of being so much as considered, like the proverbial bump on a log at a time when economic stress with the potential for, as Powell said, “unnecessary hardship for households and businesses” is looming.

And why, during a very real crisis, isn’t this legislation, or some reasonable facsimile thereof, moving through at lightning speed? Well, you have two guys, President Donald. J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, and, of course, our old pal, Senate Republic Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, who seem determined to sit on it like Jabba the Hutt on his throne.

(Any assumed reference to a physical resemblance between Jabba and the president is purely coincidental and should not be so construed).

McConnell, for whatever reason, has never been hot on the idea of a new stimulus package, although he has provided lip service toward some minimal help. He has characterized the effort as a “blue state bailout,” asserting that those states controlled by Democrats aren’t properly administering their tax dollars and are now looking to Washington for charity.

All of which is, of course, baloney. Had COVID-19 never appeared on the nation’s doorstep, depleting coffers and spreading misery, neither blue states, red states nor chartreuse states would have had any need to approach the federal government hat in hand. It’s more than lame to contend that only blue states – the ones that keep the economic engine running, by the way – are the only ones suffering.

Mitch might also be concerned that time spent on passage of a new stimulus bill would detract from the time necessary to achieve his dream of transforming the nation’s court system into an American version of the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. We do have our priorities, after all.

McConnell, who has been basically dealt out of any negotiations over a third stimulus bill because Senate Democrats refuse to deal with him – for good reason – also maintains the votes wouldn’t be there to get the measure passed. What he’s really saying is there isn’t sufficient Republican support. Democrats and independents in the upper chamber are good for 47 votes. Four more from the GOP side give you a majority. But 60 likely would be necessary because, as has become usual practice, someone on the Republican side would filibuster.

But one would think, given McConnell’s unparalleled legislative genius, he’d be able to push it through.


Trump is another story altogether. Initially, he complained that the price tag was too high and sent his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, to negotiate a deal with House and Senate Democrats. It will come as a surprise to no one to learn this was a really bad decision. Democrats had discovered they could work with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the initial go-rounds. Meadows was another story and the talks, as one would expect, broke down.

Recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, has been huddling with Mnuchin, advancing the prospect of a deal. Trump seemed to be going along, tweeting late last week from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was dealing with his own bout of COVID-19, “OUR GREAT USA WANTS & NEEDS STIMULUS. WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE. Thank you!”

Then a couple days later, having left Walter Reed to return to the White House, the oddball inexplicably threw in the towel and spiked any further negotiations until, well, get this:

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business.”

Where to begin.

Who blows to smithereens the opportunity for popular and necessary legislation, providing a lifeline to literally millions, four weeks before an election? It not only clouds his chances but deprives endangered Senate Republicans – and there are a few – to vote on a measure that could provide a legitimate helping hand to constituents during hard times.

And the reference “immediately after I win,” is double-barreled. First, it seems like the president is blackmailing not only Congress but also the American people – vote for me or no stimulus. Secondly, the RealClearPolitics national polling average has Trump trailing Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden by 9.7 points and sinking with less than four weeks until the Nov. 3 balloting.

That is known as whistling past the graveyard. Now, to be truthful, Trump probably stands a better chance than most handicappers give him credit for – the tally will probably tighten as Election Day approaches and the Electoral College, which should be renamed the All-Important Electoral College, is biased toward the GOP. Biden will have to pick up a handful of states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and/or the like – that Trump carried in 2016. Not an easy task.

But putting the kibosh on legislation that would provide critical assistance to folks who are struggling through no fault of their own isn’t normally viewed as the best way to bolster one’s come from behind re-election chances. Voters may have short memories but not THAT short.

It seems like Trump is operating his campaign in a manner similar to University of Kentucky running back A.J. Rose in last week’s loss to Ole Miss – celebrating on the 20-yard line on his way to a touchdown only to be tackled from behind. Then, deprived of the score, fumbling at the goal line on an ensuing play.

And we all know how that turned out.

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