From The Kansas City Star

IT’S A short walk from gridlock to Grinch this time of year, and Congress has been oddly willing to take the walk by not approving direct COVID-19 relief payments to American families and individuals.

Until this week.

It certainly appears that Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s principled, passionate, bipartisan urging has helped push this stalled Congress to take action to save struggling citizens. The conservative Republican was joined in the last-ditch effort by liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Until Hawley and Sanders bridged the partisan chasm to make their stand, direct aid to ordinary Americans wasn’t getting traction, despite extended suffering from a resurgent virus and renewed restrictions on crowds and commerce.

“They are in need today like they were in need in March. And it is incumbent upon this body to act,” Hawley said in a resolute speech on the Senate floor last week. “If the Senate of the United States can find hundreds of billions of dollars to give to big government and big business, surely it can find some relief for working families and working individuals. And I would just submit to you that it is working families and working people who should be first in line for COVID relief, not last.”

Perhaps as a result, congressional and presidential negotiators were close to a deal Wednesday for direct stimulus payments to individuals — though they’re likely to be less than the $1,200 apiece earlier this year.

Frankly, with the depth of Americans’ financial distress and the time it will take to get everyone vaccinated, anything less than $900 to each American would be insufficient.

Still, without Hawley’s dogged insistence, we might have ended up with the proverbial Jelly of the Month Club from the movie “Christmas Vacation.” After one of the most combative elections in U.S. history, it seems members of Congress had to be shaken awake. They were so caught up in fighting each other that they forgot whom they were there to fight for.

“I can’t figure out who exactly is opposed to it,” Hawley told his colleagues about direct payments.

The American people sure aren’t opposed. A Yahoo Finance-Harris Poll found that 70% support a second round of stimulus checks. And two out of three say it would be the most important part of another COVID-19 relief bill — along with enhanced unemployment benefits and Paycheck Protection Programs for businesses.

Now, thankfully, more members of Congress have apparently drunk the egg nog. But they may not have, if not for Hawley — who made it safe for Republicans to agree to the payments.

Yes, it’s easy playing Santa Claus, particularly with other people’s money, and when you had almost put on a Grinch outfit. And yes, dilly-dallying members of Congress left Hawley a monumental hole through which he could drive this populist bandwagon.

So noted. But so what? Someone had to get behind the wheel and get this moving. To his great credit, Hawley took matters into his own hands when nearly no one else would. And in doing so, he proved bipartisanship isn’t completely dead.

That — and a lifesaving check — is a nice bit of holiday cheer out of a nearly cheerless national capital.

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