Washington — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate will vote on a slimmed-down coronavirus relief package on Thursday as negotiations between Democrats and the White House over a larger measure remain stalled.
“We’re not going to let Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic leader kill and bury coronavirus relief behind closed doors without putting every senator on the record,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The bill is expected to carry a price tag of around $500 billion, and Senate leadership is still scrambling to get support from all of GOP members. Sixty votes would be needed to advance the legislation, meaning that even if all 53 Senate Republicans supported the bill, it would still be unlikely to move forward, since Senate Democrats appear united in opposition.
“It will be a procedural vote. It’s not a vote to pass our bill tomorrow precisely as written. It’s a vote for senators to say whether they want to move forward toward huge amounts of relief for kids, for jobs, for health care, or whether they are happier doing absolutely nothing,” McConnell said about the vote.
In a statement on Tuesday morning, McConnell described the “new targeted proposal” as “focused on some of the very most urgent healthcare, education, and economic issues.”
“It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same,” McConnell said. “Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation.”
The bill would provide an $300 per week for expanded unemployment insurance benefits. Congress established a benefit providing an additional $600 per week as part of the CARES Act which passed in March, but that provision expired at the end of July. The bill also includes $257 billion for a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, which aims to help small businesses, liability protection, and $105 billion for schools. Liability protection in particular has been a priority for McConnell.
Congress remains at an impasse in negotiations for coronavirus relief, with Democrats and Republicans disagreeing over the cost and scope of additional legislation. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion bill in May, but McConnell has refused to bring the legislation to the Senate floor, questioning its cost and the inclusion of provisions such as election assistance for states.
Even if the scaled-down relief bill did pass in the Senate, it would likely fail in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer slammed McConnell’s announcement in a joint statement on Tuesday, saying the “proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support.”
“Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere,” Pelosi and Schumer said.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin also slammed McConnell in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, accusing the majority leader of “showboating.” He questioned why McConnell would not bring the proposal passed by the House to the Senate floor, and allow for full debate on the legislation. Durbin called on Republicans to “come back to the negotiating table.” Negotiations for coronavirus relief legislation over the summer was primarily conducted by White House officials and Pelosi and Schumer.
McConnell last week expressed doubt that Congress would reach a deal on a major relief package before the election.
“I don’t know if there will be another package in the next few weeks or not,” McConnell told reporters in Kentucky. “The cooperative spirit we had in March and April has dissipated as we’ve moved closer and closer to the election.”
Meanwhile, Congress has just weeks to fund the government ahead of a September 30 deadline. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Pelosi have informally agreed to pass a “clean” continuing resolution, or CR, to extend funding, meaning that it would not include any controversial provisions and would be separate from discussions of additional COVID relief.
“The good news is, the speaker and I have agreed that neither one of us want a government shutdown. I have spoken to the president and to Mitch and Kevin about this as well, so we’re going to move forward with a clean CR,” Mnuchin told reporters on Sunday, referring to McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
It remains unclear what the continuing resolution will look like, particularly since any agreement would need the support of House Democrats. The House returns to Washington on September 14.
Alan He contributed to this report.