There’s a misconception spreading widely that we now face a choice between saving the economy and saving lives, and that Republicans want to do the former while Democrats want to do the latter. The truth, of course, is that the only way to revive the economy is by getting a handle on the novel coronavirus.

That’s what will allow commerce to resume. Indeed, we’re already seeing outbreaks in places where people have returned to work too hastily.

So the real divide now emerging in Washington is between Republicans who say the government has done pretty much all it can to help individuals and businesses struggling through this unprecedented economic crisis, and Democrats who say there’s still much more that should be done.

To that end, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday unveiled the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act,” or Heroes Act. This $3 trillion rescue package would be Phase 5 of this ongoing effort to minimize our public health and economic catastrophes.

While it certainly won’t become law in its current form (there’s an obstacle by the name of Mitch McConnell), it does lay out what Democrats believe the needs are right now. Some highlights:

  • Nearly $1 trillion in aid to states, localities, tribal governments and territories to help them deal with the costs of the pandemic and keep their budgets from collapsing.
  • A second round of direct payments, of $1,200 per person up to $6,000 per household.
  • Increased funds for food stamps; meals for children; the Women, Infants, and Children program; and other safety net programs.
  • $3.6 billion to help states prepare for the November election with the new challenges the pandemic brings, along with rules making voting easier, including requiring no-excuse absentee voting.
  • A $200 billion “Heroes Fund” for essential workers.
  • $25 billion for the Postal Service to make up for the revenue it has lost during the pandemic.
  • $100 billion for hospitals and health-care providers, and $75 billion toward testing and tracing.
  • $100 billion for schools to deal with the pandemic.
  • $175 billion in rental and mortgage assistance.
  • An extension of enhanced unemployment benefits through January.

That’s just the beginning; there are hundreds more provisions in the 90-page proposal. Republicans will call it a liberal wish list, but most of the provisions would, in any sane world, be completely nonpartisan.

And what does Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) want to do? What is his counterproposal? He’d like liability protections for businesses, so workers wouldn’t be able to sue their employers if they got covid-19 on the job, nor would customers be able to sue.

That’s it. That’s all McConnell wants. And he’s not even in any hurry to pass more relief for the public. “We have not yet felt the urgency of acting immediately,” he says. “That time could develop, but I don’t think it has yet.”

Sure. It’s not as though mass layoffs of state and local workers have already begun as budgets get squeezed, the effect of which is to exacerbate the economic crisis. Or that tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs already and businesses are going bankrupt by the thousands. Or that we aren’t anywhere near to containing the virus.

My hypothesis about why Republicans are so reluctant to save the economy is that it’s only partly about opposition to government spending. I believe some of them have realized that even if the federal government keeps taking heroic measures, the economy still won’t bounce entirely back by November, and that means the chances President Trump gets reelected will be low.

In that eventuality, they want the economy to be in worse shape so Joe Biden will be responsible for it, they can foment a backlash against him that will justify austerity policies and then they can take back Congress in 2022.

I could be wrong, of course. But I’ve learned never to underestimate McConnell’s capacity for cynical maneuvering or imposing suffering on the public for political advantage.

You could certainly make criticisms of some of the provisions in the Democrats’ bill, or what was left out. Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-Wash.) proposal for the government to pick up business’ payrolls for the duration of the crisis wasn’t included. Some have homed in on provisions that would, for instance, allow lobbyists to apply for PPP loans.

But this would still be an enormous infusion of assistance for struggling people, not to mention addressing a host of pressing problems such as the upcoming election and the Postal Service’s challenges.

So we’re about to start the newest iteration of this now-familiar cycle, in which Democrats plead with Republicans to do something to alleviate the economic misery Americans are living through, Republicans say no and then eventually something inadequate passes, requiring us to come back and do it all again.

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