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Bill Straub: Leave it to Mitch to make terrible situation unbearable, and welcome to McConnell World

With the Covid-19 juggernaut sweeping across the nation, sidestepping the federal government’s thus-far paltry efforts to rein it in, you can always count on Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell to make a terrible situation even worse.

Despite recent bromides paying tribute to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases whose cautious prescription for dealing with the pandemic has placed him at odds with that noted epidemiologist, President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, McConnell, of Louisville, is preparing to play fast-and-loose with a new stimulus plan he intends to launch next week that will be, if it reaches fruition, the fifth congressional effort to level the ship of state since March.

McConnell and the administration are hoping to cap the upcoming effort at $1.3 trillion, according to reports. While he has indicated a willingness to throw some cash in the direction of the nation’s beleaguered schools – perhaps rallying behind the president’s insistence that they re-open in the fall, ready or not – ol’ Root-‘n-Branch yet again seems poised to place the economic weight of the situation on the working poor.

A $600-per-week boost to unemployment benefits adopted in an earlier version of a recovery package, something which Mitch has never been wild about, is set to expire on July 31, leaving a workforce confronting an unemployment rate in excess of 11 percent in the lurch. McConnell isn’t much interested in lending a hand.

“Unemployment is extremely important and we need to make sure, for those who are not able to recover their jobs, unemployment is adequate,” McConnell told reporters last month. “That is a different issue from whether we ought to pay people a bonus not to go back to work. And so I think that was a mistake.”

McConnell offered no data to back up his claim that workers are turning their collective backs on jobs because they’re getting so rich soaking the unemployment system. The fact is, with many states once again battening down the hatches as the coronavirus threat grows, available jobs are as rare as rocking horse manure. Failure to extend the bonus will achieve at least one thing in the near future – a spike in the number of foreclosures and evictions.

McConnell has also made it clear he intends to deep-six any recovery package that doesn’t protect employers from liability for sickness or death their workers incur if they become infected by the coronavirus while carrying out their job duties.
In other words, back door tort reform.

On Monday, while hitting various spots in the commonwealth, McConnell insisted that any new package include lawsuit protections for “everyone related to the coronavirus,” including health care workers, businesses, and educational institutions from kindergarten through college, covering a period from December 2019 to December 2024.

“It must have, must, no bill will pass the Senate without, liability protection for everyone related to the coronavirus,” McConnell told reporters. “Nobody should have to face an epidemic of lawsuits on the heels of the pandemic that we already have related to the coronavirus.”

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

McConnell’s edict could lead to several results, all of them bad for desperate workers. It could result in premature business re-openings with owners failing to take adequate precautions to protect their workers, forcing employees to either report for work under potentially perilous conditions or find themselves out on the street where, as noted before, ol’ Root-‘n-Branch intends to be chintzy on the unemployment benefits.

And, should an employee fall ill because of an employer’s failure to provide adequate safety measures, who exactly is going to foot the hospital bills, which will surely prove outrageous? And who is going to help pay the bills for folks who lose their job because they got sick on the job for reasons that were not their doing?

You’re on your own, pal.

But then, throughout this terrible process, McConnell has shown he’s much more interested in working to the benefit of the business community. Not only will the lords of industry express their appreciation through the deposit of beaucoup dollars to the campaign war chest but place him in good stead with the in-laws as well.

Back in March, McConnell, ever the humble public servant, grabbed credit for passage of a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that, to no one’s surprise, proved to be more beneficial to the Chamber of Commerce than working folks. He promoted a provision that would have permitted the Department of the Treasury to dispense about $500 billion to corporate America without gaining any commitment from those obtaining the governmental largess to preserve jobs and wages at a time of national distress. What’s more, he wanted to keep the identity of those receiving the federal dollars under wraps for at least six months – after the November elections.

Senate Democrats called baloney but McConnell remained steadfast. It finally was left to congressional Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with Mitch standing on the sidelines, to develop language to place some controls on the allocation of the $500 billion.

Questions were raised regarding why McConnell refused to budge on language for what everyone saw as a potential slush fund ripe for abuse with little oversight. He could have quit wasting everyone’s time early on and magnanimously agreed to some changes and send the package on its way.

Now we have arrived at the part where it can be stated flatly that even an old, blind sow unearths a truffle on occasion. In my April 2 column, under the headline “Saying whatever is necessary to assure their legends for a place in history; it’s all in the spin,’’ I posed a scenario about a shipping company that finds its revenues declining because of Copid-19.

I wrote:

Now suppose said shipping company is called The Foremost Group and it is controlled by the Chao family, as it has been since its founding in 1964. And what if one of the founder’s daughters is Elaine Chao, the U.S. secretary of transportation, who happens to be married to a fellow named Addison Mitchell McConnell, the aforementioned GOP leader in the Senate?
Foremost could certainly apply. Under McConnell’s original bail-out bill there was so little oversight, and so few limitations on who can receive the funds – that’s why they called it a slush fund, after all – that the company and the Chao family with close ties to the Republican leader could easily profit.

McConnell has already done himself well financially thanks to his association with the Chao family, to wit, according to The New York Times: “Ms. Chao and Mr. McConnell married in 1993, but her campaign donations, along with those of her parents, sisters and brothers-in-law, began flowing years before the wedding. The first $10,000 came in June 1989. In the 30 years since, 13 members of the extended Chao family have given a total of more than $1 million to Mr. McConnell’s campaigns and to political action committees tied to him. In 2008, James Chao gave the couple a gift of as much as $25 million, vaulting Mr. McConnell into the ranks of the richest senators.”

It’s possible that Foremost is actually doing okay for itself and will forgo any opportunity to collect free money. But if it is interested, the rules initially proposed by McConnell wouldn’t produce any fingerprints establishing he’s doing anyone a favor – particularly in an election year.”

So, in recap, what I noted was that The Foremost Group, which helped make Mitch McConnell a wealthy man beyond all reason, could indeed take advantage of the largess provided in the Paycheck Protection Program shoved through the Senate by the very same Mitch McConnell.

And you’ll never guess what happened. Here it is in The Courier Journal dated July 7:

Foremost Group, a New York-based business Chao’s parents founded, received a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to data the U.S. Small Business Administration released this week.
It was all so predictable. While some poor schmuck out of a job can’t get an extra $600 in unemployment bennies under McConnell, and some poor slob who gets the coronavirus waiting tables can go suck an egg, the company founded and run by Mitch’s in-laws get a $350,000 to $1 million loan to see them through.

And remember, he wanted to keep details of the $500 billion allocation under wraps until after the election.

You think Trump world is lousy? Welcome to McConnell world.

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