The GOP-controlled Senate on Sunday failed to move forward with considering the $1.4 trillion “Phase Three” stimulus package intended to help businesses and families devastated by the downturn over the coronavirus outbreak, as Senate Majority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., blasted Democrats opposed to the plan.
The vote came while at least five GOP senators were in self-quarantine, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who became the first U.S. senator to announce he tested positive for the virus. Senators were asked to practice social distancing and were given a list of health guidelines to follow while entering the chamber.
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.
Democrats also pushed for add-ons including food security aid, small business loans and other measures for workers — saying the three months of unemployment insurance offered under the draft plan was insufficient.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the draft package “significantly cut back our hospitals, our cities, our states, our medical workers and so many others needed in this crisis.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged colleagues to “take responsibility” as Democrats prepared their own draft.
After the bill failed to move forward, McConnell tore into Democrats, accusing them of backing out of a bipartisan agreement once Pelosi and Schumer intervened.
“The build-up to this is that we had a high level of bipartisanship over the last 48 hours… And then, all of a sudden, the Democratic leader and the speaker of the House shows up…and we’re back to square one,” he said, referring to Schumer and Pelosi. “I want everybody to understand that if we aren’t able to act tomorrow, it’s because of our colleagues on the other side, continue to dicker.”
He then accused Pelosi of overstepping boundaries, saying: “She’s the speaker of the House, not the speaker of the Senate.”
McConnell said the Senate will hold a cloture vote again at a time of his choosing, adding, “hopefully some adults will show up on the other side of the room and understand the gravity of the situation before the markets go down further…we’ve never been confronted by anything like this before.”
After Democrats blocked the vote, the National Republican Senatorial Committee [NRSC] released a statement accusing Pelosi, Schumer and Senate Democrats of “partisan fervor to thwart a critical coronavirus relief package while our country faces a crippling pandemic.”
“DSCC-backed candidates last weekend had no problem throwing partisan barbs at the same Republican senators working day and night to find solutions to the complex problems facing their constituents at home,” NRSC Communications Director Jesse Hunt said. “Those same candidates should prove they aren’t beholden to their chief benefactor Schumer and disavow Senate Democrats’ unthinkable decision to filibuster.”
Schumer later reiterated Democrats’ initial concerns over not wanting to move the bill forward.
“We voted no on the McConnell-GOP bill because among other problems it includes huge bailouts without protections for people and workers and without accountability, and because it shortchanges our hospitals and healthcare workers who need our help,” Schumer tweeted. “These changes need to be made.”
“We’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said earlier. “We’re here to help workers, we’re here to help hospitals.”
The urgency to act has been mounting, as jobless claims have risen, many businesses shuttered and the financial markets are set to re-open Monday eager for signs that Washington could soften the blow of the health-care crisis and what experts have warned could be a looming recession.
At issue: how best to keep paychecks flowing for millions of workers abruptly sidelined by the crisis, shore up businesses and aid hospitals.
While congressional leaders worked to send help, alarms were being sounded from coast to coast about the wave of coronavirus cases about to crash onto the nation’s health system.
Meanwhile, a growing list of lawmakers have cycled in and out of isolation after exposure, and two members of the House have said they tested positive.
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.
There also was a $242 billion proposal for emergency supplemental food, hospital and public health needs, including for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC].
For most people, the new coronavirus has sparked only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it could cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.