Congress resumes amidst continued uncertainty over what lawmakers can agree on in the final weeks of the year, reports the Associated Press.
After months of shadowboxing amid a tense and toxic campaign, Capitol Hill’s main players are returning for one final, perhaps futile, attempt at deal-making on a challenging menu of year-end business.
With businesses across the country, including here in Washington, again facing restrictions because of the new wave of COVID-19 cases, additional pandemic relief could be critical to the economic recovery. The AP reports such relief is still much in doubt.
Democrats have battled with Republicans and the White House for months over a fresh installment of COVID-19 relief that all sides say they want. But a lack of good faith and an unwillingness to embark on compromises that might lead either side out of their political comfort zones have helped keep another rescue package on ice.
Some states are attempting to mitigate the hardship, although state governments have limited financial resources compared to the federal government.
Faulting inaction in Washington, governors and state lawmakers are racing to get pandemic relief to small business owners, the unemployed, renters and others whose livelihoods have been upended by the widening coronavirus outbreak.
In some cases, elected officials are spending the last of a federal relief package passed in the spring as an end-of-year deadline approaches and the fall COVID-19 surge threatens their economies anew.
Here there is also a partisan divide on what can be done.
In New Jersey and Washington state, Republicans who are a minority in both legislatures were the ones pushing for special sessions. They want to direct more money to struggling small business owners…
State government leaders want Trump and Congress to extend the Dec. 30 deadline for spending virus relief money already allocated under the CARES Act, which was approved in March, and to provide more federal funding to deal with the consequences of the latest surge.
“It’s just heartbreaking what they’re allowing to happen with no federal government intervention,” said Washington state House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, retailers are preparing for a challenging holiday shopping season. MyNorthwest reports it began early this year. Ideally, the extended shopping season will produce positive results.
“The holiday season is underway … spreading that holiday season out is something that employers and retailers and shops and merchants have been focused on, probably since Halloween,” said Kris Johnson, president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business.
Data from the National Retail Federation suggests holiday shopping started even earlier than Halloween this year, with retail sales rising 10.6% this October compared to last year (not including auto or gas sales). And 42% of people surveyed by the NRF said they had started their seasonal shopping in October.
Johnson stressed the importance of supporting local business.
“We can’t begin to express how important it is to support local, and how important probably the next 45 days are to local businesses, and their employees, and the communities they call home,” Johnson said.
For these businesses, which may have experienced shutdowns and the loss of a tourism season, the holiday shopping season may indeed be the last hope, he said.
“In our most recent survey, 60% of employers at small businesses said they were suffering due to the pandemic,” Johnson said. “Nearly 30% had laid off workers.”
This year, Washington Research Council economist Kriss Sjoblom writes, households are closing the year out with elevated savings.
The saving rate jumped from 8.3 percent in February to an astounding 33.7 percent in April and then declined in steps to a still quite high 13.6 percent in October.
Seattle Times business reporter Paul Roberts writes of the challenges facing retailers and how they are adapting.
With new coronavirus cases at record numbers, many shops can expect not only smaller crowds due to new restrictions that limit stores to just 25% of capacity, down from 30% — they also face customers who may be increasingly fearful of shopping in person.
Yet even more than in ordinary years, many retailers desperately need a solid holiday shopping season to help cover months of anemic sales and provide enough cash to survive until a vaccine is widely available.
It would also be good to see Congress step in and provide essential relief.