Kentucky’s senior senator, Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, is at the center of congressional negotiations on another relief package. Kentucky voters didn’t punish McConnell for the long-stalemated talks in November, instead awarding him a lopsided victory as he secured a seventh term.
He spent the campaign boasting about the money he delivered for the Bluegrass State in the massive federal relief package passed early in the pandemic.
While reports of hardship are growing in Kentucky, much of the political pressure there is focused not on McConnell but on the state’s Democratic governor, Andy Beshear.
Bruce Schreiner and Piper Hudspeth Blackburn report for Associated press that Beshear is under fire from business owners and state GOP leaders who think the virus-related restrictions he’s imposed on daily life in Kentucky have gone too far.
Emboldened by gains they made in the November elections, GOP legislative leaders are expected to push to rein in Beshear’s authority to take emergency measures when the legislature convenes next year.
Beshear says he’s focused on saving lives but Congress must do its part and pass more aid.
“We need people to not be Democrats or Republicans but to be human beings and do the right thing,” the governor said in an interview. “People out there are dying, People out there are hurting. This is the time to invest in our people and in their safety.”
Kentucky has seen 190,601 coronavirus cases, with 3,836 newly recorded yesterday. There have been 2,014 deaths.
“There is no reason why we should not deliver another major pandemic relief package to help the American people through what seems poised to be the last chapters of this battle,” McConnell said in a Senate speech this week. In his home state, anxiety is rising along with deaths, infections and hospitalizations.
In a region already reeling from the decline of coal mining, eastern Kentucky pastor Chris Bartley has heard an unprecedented chorus of pleas for help from people whose lives have been shattered by the economic turmoil caused by Covid-19.
“You hear the desperation in the phone calls: I have to pay my rent today. I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve offered to rake leaves or mow grass or anything I can do.’ They’ve lost their job or the stimulus has run out,” said Bartley, associate pastor at a Methodist church in Pikeville, Kentucky.
Beshear, meanwhile, delivers daily doses of grim news of the state’s virus cases and deaths and presses for another economic lifeline for struggling businesses, the unemployed, and state and local governments.
“We saw the first round of CARES Act funding really flow through our economy in a positive manner,” he said. “People needed the dollars. They spent the dollars. We saw businesses lifted up by those dollars. We were able to use funds to help people stay in their homes with an eviction-relief fund. Pay their utility bills so they didn’t end up in debt.”
Beshear has carefully avoided calling out McConnell or president Donald Trump as the impasse drags on. Republicans dominated federal and state elections last month in Kentucky. “I’m willing to take whatever blame some people want to heap out there,” he said.
“If it means that their relatives are still around for Christmas this year and Christmas next year, I’ll take it.”