We are living through the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. Millions upon millions of Americans are jobless. Industries ranging from restaurants to entertainment are warning they will go out of business en masse without immediate and substantial government aid.

Mass layoffs continue to be announced, and more are expected. The desperation of the unemployed, now going without the federal supplement that made skimpy state unemployment benefits livable, is growing. Last week, the head of a food bank in Alabama told PBS that his organization couldn’t keep up with the demand.

And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is laughing at our nation’s suffering.

The laughter came Monday night, during a debate between McConnell and Amy McGrath, his Democratic challenger for Senate. McGrath castigated McConnell for his lack of action on further economic stimulus and relief for the millions of Americans suffering the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

When McConnell pointed out he had helped pass the first rounds of relief in the spring, and suggested the lack of action was the fault of the Democrats who wanted to spend money on things unrelated to the crisis, McGrath came out swinging.

“The House passed a bill in May and the Senate went on vacation. I mean, you just don’t do that. You negotiate. Senator, it is a national crisis.”

And McConnell laughed.

He continued to chuckle as McGrath went on: “If you want to call yourself a leader, you’ve got to get things done.”

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Perhaps McGrath should have used the word “recess” to describe more precisely the Senate’s week-long break. But otherwise she got this one exactly right.

Most Americans think we need to do more to help people struggling as a result of the pandemic and the economic pain of lockdowns, shutdowns and social distancing mandates. And when I say “most,” I mean a large majority. Poll after poll shows Americans favor extending the $600-a-week unemployment supplement that was allowed to expire by the inaction of Senate Republicans.

But as long as Republicans continue to control the Senate, it’s unlikely Americans will receive significant help.

McConnell’s response to the economic catastrophe that has resulted from the pandemic is full-on contempt for the suffering and needy. Republicans’ proposed aid packages have been ridiculously inadequate, with the result Democrats will not back them. On Tuesday, after the debate, McConnell once again proposed a “skinny” stimulus, one targeted at small-business owners, that would also offer some unemployment assistance.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with several colleagues, has repeatedly defended the $2.2 trillion relief bill that House Democrats passed Oct. 1. (The Washington Post)

This is not serious. Our economic need is not “skinny,” but large and ever-growing. That’s why House Democrats passed a $3 trillion aid package in May. Even President Trump knows it — on Tuesday he tweeted, “STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!” (What was that again about McConnell saying he would back a large bill on pandemic relief if only Trump was behind it?)

But these pretend attempts at action pay off for McConnell in one important way. A majority of Americans believe both parties should share blame for the impasse. They believe it is the fault of both parties that people cannot receive the help they so desperately need.

McConnell’s laugh gives lie to that belief, demonstrating the heartlessness and cruelty at the heart of the Republican project. It’s been a 40-year effort by the Republican Party to tear down the scaffolding of the New Deal and return us to a meaner, nastier world where individual citizens are left to fend for ourselves, even as the wealthiest Americans and largest businesses receive tax breaks and regulatory relief that leave us all poorer.

Americans don’t want the Republican agenda. They want to see the Affordable Care Act expanded, not overturned. They want to see an increase in Social Security benefits, not means-testing. They want increased taxes on the wealthy, not further tax cuts for the one percent.

And just to be clear: Republicans have passed up chance after chance to deliver more pandemic aid. They resisted it from the very beginning — even hours before passing the package with the unemployment supplement in March, a number of Republicans were publicly whining it was too generous. Many have repeatedly claimed that unemployment benefits are keeping Americans out of the workforce, instead of the fact that if you are, say, a waiter or hotel housekeeper, jobs are not exactly plentiful at the moment.

And now McConnell is so confident that his plans will succeed, he couldn’t even be bothered to fake empathy onstage for a few hours on Monday night. His knowing laugh makes it clear what a continued Republican majority in the Senate means: that Americans will continue to get treated with contempt by politicians who claim to be acting on their behalf.

What a bad joke.

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