By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – It’s been almost nine months since Congress approved the CARES Act, $2.2 trillion worth of unemployment benefits and other forms of aid to Americans economically decimated by the pandemic.

But as the expiration of benefits looms with the crisis worse than ever, the DC establishment is doing what it does best – stiffing the needy while they wallow in partisan gridlock.

“We have been in intense negotiations really since before Thanksgiving,” says Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire), in an interview with WBZ-TV. “We’ve got constituents whose unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas. It is unconscionable for us not to extend that program and also get this additional relief out.”

Hassan is part of a bipartisan group of senators who’ve offered a compromise. But it seems stuck between Democrats’ demand for help for states and cities bleeding red ink and Republican insistence on protecting businesses from infection-related lawsuits.

“Corporations who want protection from a few dozen lawsuits is equivalent to millions of workers from state and local governments being laid off? Gimme a break,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer the other day. Replies Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Drop the all-or-nothing tactics, drop the hostage-taking, and make law.”

In hopes of getting something done, the bipartisan compromisers have even quarantined the state and city aid and business protection measures from the rest of the relief bill. Still, as Hassan notes, “some of the biggest beneficiaries of state and local aid would be some red states which are facing challenges.”

But it seems common interests can’t seem to overcome political posturing. “Republicans say they need support on this liability issue in order to get votes for the state and local aid,” Hassan says.

As of Tuesday afternoon, McConnell was agreeing with his Democratic counterparts on one point – “we’re not leaving here” for the holidays without an aid package. Cold comfort for millions of frantic citizens desperate for federal help that could have – and should have – been forthcoming months ago.

Jon Keller