Government is supposed to help people in need, not abandon them to their fates. But that’s not what’s happening here in the increasingly Dickensian United States, where both hunger and the shoplifting of basic necessities are on the rise, and the unemployed live in increasing despair.

“It’s unconscionable what’s taking place,” says Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

I reached out to Khanna this week because this past October, he openly begged his party to accept a $1.8 billion stimulus deal negotiated with the White House. Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) deemed it “insufficient,” appearing convinced she would have a better hand to negotiate with after the election.

Fast forward to this week, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put the kibosh on a $908 billion-plus bipartisan proposal after the Democratic leadership would not give up on (desperately needed) aid to state and local governments. No doubt the bipartisan plan debuted Thursday by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) to give all Americans earning less than $75,000 another round of $1,200 stimulus payments will meet the same fate.

The situation will turn catastrophic if not soon addressed. Temporary actions such as eviction moratoriums and unemployment for gig workers were enacted last spring and are set to expire by the end of the year. At the same time, others are on the verge of running out of their 26 weeks of traditional jobless benefits and 13 weeks of pandemic aid.

There is nothing that symbolizes the failed state of U.S. politics better than the inability of Congress to get further financial help to increasingly desperate Americans. Even as weekly jobless claims are on the rise and states are once again imposing business and movement restrictions to stop the spread of covid-19, Congress appears incapable of coming up with a plan everyone can sign off on.

If there is no deal, says Khanna, “We do permanent damage to the economy and businesses going out of business. We do permanent damage to people’s lives who may be evicted, who may not be able to put nutritious food on the table for their kids, people who are going to face great agony and hardship.”

Make no mistake. Americans want action. According to a poll released Thursday by Vox and the progressive think tank Data for Progress, large majorities of both Democrats and Republicans want to see further economic aid, and they want to see it by the end of the year. At the same time, few Americans of either party have any interest in a corporate liability waiver for covid-19, something that’s a top priority for McConnell. But here’s the rub. A plurality blames Democrats for the impasse. Thirty-eight percent say Democrats are responsible, while 31 percent say Republicans and 26 percent think both parties are at fault.

This is simply not true. Let me remind you: McConnell laughed when, prior to the election, he was confronted by challenger Amy McGrath over his inaction on the stimulus. Let me repeat that: He laughed. But none of this seems well known. That clip, alas, wasn’t widely viewed. Instead, Democrats, by squashing the $1.8 billion deal before McConnell would either need to stop it or allow it to move forward to a vote, got stuck with the blame. (A nasty and well-publicized exchange between Pelosi and Wolf Blitzer on CNN over the issue probably didn’t help matters.)

There isn’t, as Khanna put it to me, “a clear sense of political blame.” This isn’t fair, but it’s the reality Democrats need to face. The Republican leadership appears hyper-focused on leaving as bad an economy as possible for the incoming Biden administration. It’s an echo of their 2009 actions, when they refused to support adequate economic stimulus and reaped the electoral benefit when angry Americans turned on Democrats as the recovery from the Great Recession lingered in the slow lane.

Democrats can’t let this repeat succeed. But at this point, the only way to prevent it will be to step up and show the American people how hard Democrats are working to get them help. They cannot just hope people assume it’s happening.

“It’s our moral duty to get something done … if we don’t, we should all probably be sleeping in our offices on Christmas Day and working on it. We shouldn’t leave until we get something done,” Khanna said.

He’s right.

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