Shoppers pass by a former Clark's shoe store that is now one of several vacant retail spaces among the outlet shops in Freeport on Sept. 2. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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In recent weeks, more than 40,000 new coronavirus cases are diagnosed each day in the United States. In September, more than 19 million Americans said they had been unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic. Health experts warn that the coronavirus pandemic will worsen as winter arrives.

Yet, rather than negotiate a needed relief package for American families, workers and businesses, Senate leadership and the White House have prioritized confirming a new justice for the Supreme Court.

This is a heartless abdication of leadership.

The U.S. House passed a $3 trillion relief package in May. Last week, it passed a smaller, more targeted $2.2 trillion bill, which should have been a starting point for negotiations in the Senate. Instead, Republicans in the Senate have floated various proposals, some as small as $500 billion, but not done the serious work of putting together a proposal that could pass Congress.

There were hopeful signs last week that lawmakers were finally getting serious about a relief bill, but that optimism was short lived. After returning from the hospital, where he was treated for coronavirus, President Donald Trump last week told his team to stop negotiations until after the election.

Within hours, the president changed his stance and urged congressional leaders to negotiate and pass a plan. Now, he is urging lawmakers to “go big or go home.” The administration proposed a $1.8 trillion plan, which is in the ballpark with the House-passed bill.

This contradicts Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said the Senate will take up a small, targeted bill next week focused on replenishing the small business loan program, the Paycheck Protection Plan, that was championed by Sen. Susan Collins. The bill would total about $500 billion and also include money for schools and hospitals. This is similar to a package unveiled by some Senate Republicans this summer, which failed to gain much support.

The PPP needs new funding, but so too do states, cities, tribes and American families that are facing financial hardship as the pandemic nears its ninth month. That’s why a comprehensive bill is essential. Without it, Americans continue to suffer and many businesses teeter on the brink of closure.

Both Maine senators were outspoken in their criticism of the failed negotiations.

“When the pandemic began, Republicans and Democrats in Congress worked together successfully to take quick, sweeping action,” including passing the Paycheck Protection Program, Collins said in a statement last week.

“That’s the same approach we need to take now to continue to provide support for the health and safety of all Americans and the safe, responsible opening of our communities,” she added.

“More than 200,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and our economy has yet to recover, but instead of dealing with relief for those who need it, this President and this Majority Leader are choosing to rush through a Supreme Court nominee,” Sen. Angus King said in a statement in September when Trump nominated conservative federal judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated just weeks earlier when liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.

Most Americans agree that the priorities of Senate Republican leadership are backwards. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed in a recent Hill-HarrisX poll said that the Senate should pass a relief bill before considering Barrett’s nomination.

It is clear that coronavirus isn’t going away. It is also clear that American families, businesses and state and local governments are struggling to make it through the pandemic. Congress is the only entity that has the wherewithal to ease the suffering and to ensure the U.S. economy doesn’t slip further into a recession.

Shirking that responsibility is a colossal failure.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...