Tensions flared on the Senate floor Monday as lawmakers viscerally clashed on camera over phase three of a coronavirus response package, with Democrats blocking Republican efforts to advance the massive stimulus bill for the second day in a row.
Leaving the legislation in limbo once more, the Senate stalled over the package Monday afternoon on a 49-46 vote. It needed 60 votes to advance.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then stormed to the floor to accuse Democrats of “mindless obstruction” that could drag out any action for days. He said Democrats’ list of demands keeps getting “longer and longer.”
Democrats argue the more-than $1 trillion package did too much for large corporations and not enough for workers, but Republicans accuse them of playing politics and using the crisis as leverage to try and jam through unrelated political “wish list” items concerning climate change and more.
“The country is burning, and your side wants to play political games,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said shortly before the vote. “It is time to get this done. The American people expect us to act, they need action. We need to get this done for the American people.”
Thune slammed Democrats—specifically moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who just moments earlier said the bill was “weighted toward the Wall Street corporation side.”
“Here we are dilly-dallying around,” Thune said. “This bill is about workers, families, people out there hurting economically—we’re in a position to do something about it and it is high time that we did.”
Emotions ran so high on the floor before the vote that at one point Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., implored colleagues to take a breath and focus on the work.
“We’re going to get this done today,” Durbin said. “Everyone take a breath. Everyone is emotional today, but we’re going to get this done. We have a job to do.”
The package first failed Sunday in the face of Democratic opposition. McConnell then called Monday for the re-do on the procedural vote to begin debate—to which Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed. That vote failed, again, shortly afterward.
“Republicans understand that a national crisis calls for urgency and calls for bipartisanship,” McConnell said earlier. “It’s time for Democrats to stop playing politics and step up to the plate.
“We’re at war with no ammo,” he continued. “Democrats are talking about this as if it is some juicy political opportunity. This is not a juicy political opportunity.”
“This has got to stop and today’s the day it has to stop,” McConnell said. “The country is out of time.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, blasted Democrats as “disgraceful” for delaying further work on the legislation.
Schumer countered that Democrats are only “looking for oversight. If this federal government is making a big loan to someone, to a big company, we ought to know it and know the details immediately. The bill that was put on the floor by the Republican leader said no one would know a thing about those loans for six months, at least.”
The latest procedural vote failure leaves unclear whether ongoing negotiations will yield a workable compromise.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday, after returning to Washington, D.C., from recess, said House Democrats would roll out their own bill, again accusing Senate Republicans of putting corporations first in their proposed legislation.
“The Senate Republicans’ bill, as presented, put corporations first, not workers and families,” Pelosi said in a statement Monday. “Today, House Democrats will unveil a bill that takes responsibility for the health, wages and well-being of America’s workers: the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act.”
Many Democrats had complained that the draft aid package did not go far enough to provide health care and unemployment aid for Americans, and failed to put restraints on a proposed $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations, saying the ban on corporate stock buy-backs are weak and the limits on executive pay would last only two years.
Officials put the price tag of the rescue package at nearly $1.4 trillion and said that with other measures from the Federal Reserve it could pump $2 trillion into the U.S. economy.
The draft legislation would provide payments of up to $1,200 per person. They would be phased down at adjusted gross income thresholds of $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 per couple. Additionally, there would be $500 payments for each child.
The amount is reduced to zero for single taxpayers with incomes exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers.
Central to the package is as much as $350 billion for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home, and billions in loans to airlines and other industries.
Senate Republicans, like McConnell and Thune, slammed Pelosi on Monday, claiming that she returned from recess and sabotaged all bipartisan efforts in the upper chamber.
“There was great bipartisan cooperation and then yesterday, the Speaker of the House showed up with an agenda,” Thune said. “And all of a sudden, it got taken over at the leadership level…and instead of helping American workers, we’re talking about the Green New Deal.”
But Durbin defended Pelosi, saying that it is clear that “she really does unnerve people on the other side.”
Durbin added that her intervention in negotiations “happens to be consistent with the bicameral system of government that we have.”
And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the original bill was not bipartisan, and that Democrats were not included in initial negotiations.
Meanwhile, Schumer, who said he was “hopeful” the Senate would get something done Monday, left the Senate floor to continue negotiations with the White House and Senate Republicans.
“We’re going to get this done today,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday. “Everybody is working very hard so we look forward to a big vote today.”
When asked when he expected to have a final agreement with both Senate Republicans and Democrats, Mnuchin said: “As fast as we can.”
But McConnell is likely to face a challenge in crossing the 60-vote hurdle of the procedural vote, as five key GOP senators are in self-quarantine.
On Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, sending Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, into self-quarantine after interacting with Paul throughout the weekend.
Paul, Lee, and Romney joined Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Cory Gardner, R-Co., in self-quarantine. Scott, out of an abundance of caution, put himself in quarantine after meeting with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. A member of Bolsonaro’s staff tested positive for the virus. Gardner went into self-quarantine on March 17 after interacting with a constituent who, also, later tested positive.
Under normal circumstances, the Senate breakdown is 53 Republicans and 47 senators who caucus with the Democrats. But with five Republican senators quarantined, the GOP barely has a majority in the upper chamber, at 48 Republican senators to 47 Democratic senators.