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Urgency needed in passing COVID-19 relief legislation

Despite an effort by a bipartisan coalition of dozens of members of Congress, agreement on a new COVID-19 relief bill seems no closer than a month ago. More disturbing than the failure of negotiators is what appears to be a willingness to just let the issue go.

At least there will be no “government shutdown.” Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as White House negotiators, are continuing. A spending bill needs to be approved by the end of this month to avoid suspension of some federal government activities.

Even that measure, as bad as a partial shutdown of government would reflect on the political climate as a whole, has hit sticking points. Still, at least all involved still are talking.

Such discussions appear to have more urgency than talks over a new coronavirus relief bill. One national reporter even suggested some in Congress may leave that issue “for a post-election lame-duck session — or for the next administration.”

Good grief. The next inauguration, whether of incumbent President Donald Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden, is scheduled for Jan. 20.

Meanwhile, millions of working men and women, along with their families, continue to suffer from the epidemic-related economic slowdown.

It is true that for some, recovery has been dramatic. At last count, the U.S. unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, down dramatically from the nearly 15 percent recorded just a few months ago.

But while 8.4 percent may not sound like a large number, statistics behind it are sobering. About 13.5 million working-age people remain off the job. That is roughly 6 million more than a year ago.

These people cannot wait until after Jan. 20. Just as important, many businesses are on their last legs because of the epidemic. If some help is not provided to them, they will not exist to call workers back next year.

Some lawmakers remain focused on a new COVID-19 relief bill. They favor a stripped-down version without many of the political pitfalls that plague both Republican and Democratic versions of previous bills.

If a sense of urgency is not transmitted to other on Capitol Hill and in the White House, there will be more to fear than a suspension of some government activities. A true shutdown — of important segments of the economy — will be a threat.

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