Senate sets up Tuesday session to try to pass coronavirus relief deal

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The Senate will try to pass a forthcoming agreement on coronavirus aid as soon as Tuesday if negotiators are able to reach a deal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) amended the Senate schedule to set up the Tuesday meeting; the chamber had previously only been expected to meet this week on Monday and Thursday.

The Tuesday meeting will give the chamber another chance to pass a deal on an “interim” coronavirus relief bill, and keep the House on track with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s timeline of voting as soon as Wednesday.

“Since this is so urgent, I have asked that the Senate meet again tomorrow in a new session that was not previously scheduled, and the Democratic leader has agreed to my request. Colleagues, it is past time, past time, to get this done for the country,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.

Asked about the negotiations by reporters, he added: “We’re getting closer and hopefully we’ll have an agreement sometime later today.”

The initial $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) ran out last week, adding urgency for Congress to act quickly amid high demand for the financial help as the coronavirus has forced businesses to scale back or close altogether.

The decision to schedule another session comes as congressional negotiators and the Trump administration are close to an agreement on more coronavirus aid, with both sides aiming to announce the deal on Monday. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had hoped to pass an agreement on Monday, but negotiations dragged on through the day, making action by the Senate’s mid-afternoon session unrealistic. 

“It’s now been four days since the Paycheck Protection Program ran out of money. Republicans have been trying to secure more funding for this critical program for a week and a half,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. 

“At this hour, our Democratic colleagues are still prolonging their discussions with the administration, so the Senate regretfully won’t be able to pass more funding for Americans’ paychecks today,” he added. 

The contours of the deal, according to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, include $300 billion for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program including money specifically for small banks, $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing.

But how to structure the testing funds was still an open point of discussion Monday. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the federal government had to be coordinating the testing nationwide.  

“You can’t have it state by state. … You need the federal government to focus,” he said.

Democrats introduced their own plan last week that would require the Trump administration to scale up the ability for a nationwide testing regime.  

Senate Democrats also fumed during a call late last week with Vice President Pence, with sources telling The Hill that lawmakers felt like they weren’t getting answers to their questions on testing. 

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said Monday that lawmakers on a White House-appointed task force also questioned President Trump during a call last week on testing. 

“I think the testing issue is what really got hit hard. In other words, ‘Mr. President, the American people are not going to feel good and right about opening back up until we have more robust testing,’ ” Capito said during a radio interview with WRNR, a West Virginia radio station. 

Public health experts have said widespread, widely available testing is a requirement for starting to lift social distancing requirements put in place to help limit the spread of the coronavirus. 

But the administration has placed the onus on states to carry out their own testing, positioning the federal government as a backup. 

“States, not the Federal Government, should be doing the Testing – But we will work with the Governors and get it done. This is easy compared to the fast production of thousands of complex Ventilators!” Trump tweeted on Monday. 

Republicans have also said that additional money for state and local governments will not be in the bill, a detail that Democrats haven’t yet publicly conceded.  

Because lawmakers are currently spread out across the country due to the spread of the coronavirus, leadership in the Senate is hoping to pass the new coronavirus aid by unanimous consent. That allows any one lawmaker to come back to D.C. and block it, though no senator has indicated yet that they would.  

Republicans have warned that additional money for states would make it impossible for the interim bill to pass the Senate by unanimous consent and that the issue should instead wait until the fourth coronavirus bill. 

The House is expected to have to return to vote on the bill, according to the notice from Hoyer. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) has signaled he would not let a bill pass by consent and some progressives have signaled they will oppose the interim bill as currently drafted.  

“Members are further advised that at this time, a recorded vote on the interim legislation is likely in the House this week. Members will be given sufficient notice about the exact timing of any votes and when they will need to return to Washington, DC,” Hoyer added in the notice to members. 

–This report was updated at 2:27 p.m.

Tags Chuck Schumer Coronavirus Donald Trump Marco Rubio Mike Pence Mitch McConnell Paycheck Protection Program relief package Senate Shelley Moore Capito Steny Hoyer Steven Mnuchin Stimulus Thomas Massie

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