The stakes are high for both parties, with the November election less than 60 days away and only a short window left before lawmakers go home for a final stretch of campaigning. Meanwhile, hundreds of Americans continue to die each day from the virus while the U.S. economy remains moribund.
“We’re going to vote on policy,” McConnell said before Thursday’s vote. “Today every senator will either say they want to send families the relief we can agree to or they can send families nothing. Nothing.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) shot back, deriding the proceedings as “pointless” and nothing more than a partisan exercise.
“Mr. Leader, go look up in the dictionary what bipartisanship is. It’s both parties working together,” Schumer said. “This bill is not going to happen because it is so emaciated, so filled with poison pills, so partisanly designed. It was designed to fail.”
While some are holding out hope that a deal is still possible, lawmakers appeared resigned Thursday to Congress potentially leaving in October without passing another stimulus. Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) acknowledged that coronavirus relief is looking unlikely until after the election.
“It looks that way,” Shelby said. “You never know around here sometimes things look bleak and they’re revived and so forth. We thought the scaled down version was a good bill. A good timing and everything else, the Democrats obviously thought otherwise. That’s all we can do is tee it up and go with it.”
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala), the Senate’s most endangered incumbent, blamed McConnell for the stalemate and said he is “just appalled at the way he’s treated the American people.”
The House returns to Washington next week, but it’s unclear whether stalled negotiations between Mnuchin, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schumer will resume. Republicans are hoping that Pelosi will face pressure from moderate House Democrats to make new concessions.
But so far, Pelosi and Schumer are showing no signs of coming down from her price tag of $2.2 trillion, a key sticking point with the White House and Senate Republicans. The White House initially proposed a topline number of $1 trillion for a new relief package, but Mnuchin signaled this week the administration is willing to go up to $1.5 trillion.
Pelosi on Thursday again rebuked the Senate GOP’s efforts, and gave no indication that Democrats planned to downsize their funding demands.
“Let’s not have a skinny bill when we have a massive problem,” Pelosi said.
But Pelosi insisted that coronavirus talks would not end with the GOP’s likely doomed vote on Thursday, arguing that Republicans would be forced to make concessions amid mounting pressure from officials back home.
“No. I think that McConnell is being his cynical self by saying, ‘I’ll just put something on there, it’ll look like we’re trying to do something’ … Check the box. Push the button,” Pelosi said of the Senate bill.
McConnell said after the vote that he hopes “Democrats will come back to the table.”
The Senate Republican proposal would have provided $300-per-week in increased federal unemployment benefits through the end of December, another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and liability protections for schools, businesses and health care providers during the pandemic, a top priority for McConnell.
McConnell faces pressure from vulnerable Senate Republicans, who don’t want to go home without voting on another relief package. Schumer, though, this week derided the GOP proposal as nothing more than a “check the box” vote to give cover to Republican incumbents.
Democrats are pushing for McConnell to let the Senate take up the House’s nearly $3.5 trillion HEROES Act, which would provide $600 in boosted weekly unemployment benefits, another round of stimulus checks, and nearly $1 trillion for state and local aid.
“It’s very possible that a lack of urgency could prevent something from happening,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “That and the fact that there’s a desire to get home and campaign.”
Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.