GOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive
Senate Democrats blocked a scaled-down, GOP-only $500 billion coronavirus bill Wednesday, as talks continue on a bipartisan deal between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House.
Senators voted 51-44 to end debate on the Republican proposal, falling short of the 60 needed to overcome the procedural hurdle.
The GOP bill was widely expected to fall short—and is less than a third of the latest offer made by the White House. But Senate Republican leadership was eager to force Democrats to go on the record on coronavirus relief as the number of cases per day is on the rise and the November election is less than two weeks away.
“The overwhelming bulk of it is programs that Democrats claim they support. Well, it turns out there’s a special perk to being a United States senator. When you actually support something, you get to vote for it. … When you actually want an outcome, you vote it. Strangely enough, that’s not what seems to be happening,” McConnell said on Wednesday ahead of the vote.
The GOP bill included a federal unemployment benefit, another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) small business aid, more than $100 billion for schools and new funding for coronavirus testing and vaccine research and distribution.
Democrats blasted the GOP bill as a “stunt,” aimed at allowing vulnerable GOP senators to vote for a bill as they fight to hold onto the majority in November.
“The Republican majority will bring up a bill designed to fail. Their partisan, emaciated COVID relief bill. … The bill we’re voting on today has already failed in the Senate, didn’t get a Democratic vote and we already know it lacks the votes,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Wednesday’s vote come after McConnell also forced two votes on Tuesday: one a stand-alone PPP proposal and a second vote on legislation related to pre-existing conditions from Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who has trailed or been neck and neck with his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham in polls.
“The closer we get to an election, the sillier it gets here in Leader McConnell’s Senate. … It’s hard to believe that this is supposedly the greatest debate chamber in the country or in the world. Leader McConnell moves to table his own bill so Republicans could then vote against tabling it,” Schumer added.
Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Mark Warner (Va.) voted with Republicans against pigeonholing the PPP proposal on Tuesday. Jones, Peters, Shaheen and Warner are each on the ballot next month.
But no Democratic senators supported the GOP bill on Wednesday.
The floor drama in the Senate comes as talks are ongoing between Pelosi and the administration aimed at getting a deal on a significantly larger coronavirus bill.
The two sides are discussing a package between $1.8 trillion to $2.2 trillion, though President Trump has signaled he is willing to go higher in order to cut a deal with Pelosi after months of stop-and-start negotiations.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said on Wednesday, during an interview with Fox Business, that the White House’s goal is to get “some kind of deal” in the next 48 hours.
Meadows said that the discussions had entered a “new phase” as the White House and Democratic negotiators wrangle over language of a potential bill, though he noted that the two sides remain apart on the price tag. Meadows cited state and local assistance as the primary source of disagreement.
“I can tell you that the negotiations have entered a new phase, which is more on the technical side of trying to get the language right if we can agree upon the numbers,” Meadows said. “We are still apart, still a number of issues to work on, but the last 24 hours have moved the ball down the field.”
Pelosi, during an MSNBC interview Wednesday, also appeared optimistic about the chances of a deal, though she hasn’t said if she believes that will take place before the Nov. 3 election.
“I’m pretty happy. I think we have a prospect for an agreement,” Pelosi said. “[I]’m optimistic, because even with what Mitch McConnell says — we don’t want to do it before the election — but let’s keep working so that we can do it after the election.”
But an agreement between Pelosi and the White House faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Senate Republicans are cool to passing another deal.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) warned that it would be “hard” to get 13 Republican votes for a $1.8 trillion deal — the number of Republicans that would be needed if every Democratic senator supported it. He told reporters Wednesday that he could not get 13 votes for a $2.4 trillion deal.
McConnell told GOP senators during a closed-door lunch Tuesday that he warned the White House against cutting a deal before the election. But in a press conference Tuesday, McConnell said the Senate would take up an agreement, if it is reached, “at some point” but didn’t commit to if it would be before or after Nov. 3.
“If a presidentially supported bill clears the House at some point we’ll bring it to the floor,” McConnell said.
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