GOP senators say coronavirus deal dead until after election
Republican senators on Thursday declared a fifth coronavirus relief bill all but dead, the latest signal that Congress is unlikely to pass any further pandemic assistance before the November election.
Senate Democrats on Thursday rejected a pared down GOP relief bill brought to the floor amid a weeks-long stalemate in discussions between congressional Democrats and the White House that shows no signs of breaking.
GOP senators after the vote expressed pessimism about the possibility of getting a deal in the coming months.
“Congress is not going to pass another COVID relief bill before the election,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a video posted on Twitter.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said that the coronavirus talks were at a “dead end street.”
Asked if it was unlikely Congress would pass another coronavirus relief bill before the election, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said, “it looks that way.”
Thursday marked the first vote on a coronavirus package the chamber has taken since April. The bill included a $300 per week federal unemployment benefit, another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding, money for testing and schools and liability protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Asked what the next step is, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) punted the question to Democrats.
“[But] it makes you believe they really don’t want to do another proposal. They want to wait until after the election and play games with this,” McConnell said during an interview with Fox News.
Both sides say they are still interested in getting an agreement on another sweeping bill to help boost the economy and counter the devastating health impacts of the virus, which has killed approximately 191,000 people in the United States.
But neither appears to be willing to take the first step needed to break the logjam.
Talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows derailed in early August amid deep divisions over both the price tag of the bill and significant policy differences like unemployment insurance and more money for state and local governments.
Democrats have offered to come down to $2.2 trillion, after House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion bill in May. Senate Republicans offered an initial $1.1 trillion bill in late July, though Mnuchin has said they could come up to $1.5 trillion. But Republicans have rejected a request from Pelosi and Schumer that they increase their offer to $2 trillion — something administration officials and GOP senators have dismissed as a non-starter.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) initially indicated to reporters that he had talked with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) about trying to get a bipartisan gang together to try to figure out a way to break the impasse and reach a deal on a bipartisan package. He later clarified that such a group did not currently exist.
“I don’t know if there’s a market for that,” he said. “Now, there’s no gang, but Coons and I both said you know we ought to be able to find a way forward.”
Democrats have remained united against the GOP bill, arguing it was never meant to pass but instead let Republicans say they had voted for something in the final weeks before the November election.
Schumer, speaking to reporters Thursday, also predicted that political pressure would eventually force Republicans back to the negotiating table.
“Each time McConnell said, it’s our bill or nothing, when it was a bill without any input from Democrats, when the bill was defeated they came back and we actually got some bipartisan stuff done. I would hope they would do that,” Schumer said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, said the talks get unstuck “when enough Republican senators are worried about their reelection.”
“I can’t believe that those that are in tough shape believe that this McConnell vote today is all they need for the rest of the election cycle,” Durbin said.
Asked whether it was unlikely that the Senate would return to pass something before the election after leaving town in October, Durbin added: “I would agree with that. We better get this done in the next two or three weeks.”
The Senate is scheduled to leave in early October until after the election. The House’s schedule is even tighter: They will return Monday and are expected to leave by Oct. 2.
But as Democrats say they are waiting for Republicans to return to the negotiating table, GOP senators say whether there will be a deal is up to Democrats.
“It looks like they don’t want to get to an agreement. … So my guess is, as of now, unless Pelosi changes her mind and talks to the White House, there’s not gonna be anything done,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Asked about the prospects of a coronavirus deal, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) added: “It’s up to our Democrat colleagues.”
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