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Yarmuth Criticizes McConnell Over Delayed Coronavirus Bill

Lisa Gillespie

Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Congress is criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for sending lawmakers home for the August recess without passing a new coronavirus relief bill.

Negotiations over the relief package faltered after congressional Republicans and Democrats as well as the Trump administration couldn’t come to an agreement over key provisions like providing financial aid to states, unemployment benefits and liability and eviction protections.

Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional district and chairs the House Budget Committee, said that McConnell isn’t representing the state’s best interests during the negotiations.

“He has talked about how important it was for Kentuckians to have someone in the room making decisions in these negotiations,” Yarmuth said. “Mitch McConnell is not in the room, he’s never in the room.”

The Democratic-led House passed its version of the coronavirus relief package in May. The bill would extend the $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits, budget aid to states struggling with a drop in revenue during the pandemic and hazard pay for frontline workers responding to the pandemic.

McConnell unveiled his version of the package late last month. It included a $200 per week unemployment supplement, liability protections for businesses reopening during the pandemic plus funding for schools reopening during the pandemic.

Both proposals would provide another round of $1,200 cash payments to some citizens.

But McConnell was unable to get enough support in the Senate, even among his Republican colleagues, to pass a new bill. Negotiations have been ongoing between congressional Democratic leaders and the White House.

Yarmuth said that McConnell abdicated his responsibility.

“He basically threw up his hands and said I have 20 members who aren’t going to vote for anything,” Yarmuth said.

McConnell has said he is committed to getting another relief bill passed and that senators could be called back to Washington with 24 hours of notice, if there’s a breakthrough in negotiations.

But he says that the onus is on Democrats to relent on what he calls a, “radical liberal wish list.”

“The American people need more help. Coronavirus is not finished with our country, so congress cannot be finished helping our people,” McConnell said before the Senate adjourned on Thursday.

“Republicans have been waiting and trying to pass bipartisan relief, literally for weeks. I would hope our Democratic colleagues would let the Senate act sometime soon.”

Last weekend, President Trump issued executive orders to try to provide some relief, including a provision that would provide a $400 per week supplement to unemployment benefits, but states would have to fund 25% of the initiative.

Though state officials like Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear have said they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay their share of the benefit, McConnell praised the order as a way to get benefits to people who need them.

“I am glad that President Trump is proving that while Democrats use laid-off workers as political pawns, Republicans will actually look out for them,” McConnell said in a statement.

McConnell is also in the middle of a reelection campaign. His Democratic rival, retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath said on Thursday that the impasse over the new coronavirus bill is an “abject failure of Mitch McConnell and his leadership.”

Yarmuth said that it’s possible that the coronavirus package will end up becoming part of the larger discussion of funding the federal government–a new stopgap funding bill has to be passed by Sept 30 in order to avoid a government shutdown.

But he says that he wants those discussion to happen sooner rather than later.

“If it takes that long, you’re now talking about almost two months that people are going without the federal supplement for unemployment,” Yarmuth said. “The human cost of waiting that long is immeasurable.”

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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