October 21, 2020 3:16 pm
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senate democrats block 500 billion coronavirus aid bill

Senate Democrats blocked Republicans’ attempt to pass a $500 billion coronavirus stimulus bill Wednesday as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin make a last-ditch push to strike a relief deal before the 2020 election.

The GOP tried to advance its bill, similar to one Democrats opposed last month. The measure failed in a 51-44 party-line vote, falling short of the 60 votes needed.

The stalemate in the Senate extends months of gridlock on Capitol Hill as millions of Americans, trying to afford food and housing and keep their businesses open, await more federal aid during an economic crisis. Election-year politics have jarred the legislative process as new Covid-19 infections in the U.S. reach levels unseen in weeks.

Republicans in Congress argue Democrats have reached for an expensive wish list filled with many provisions unrelated to the crisis. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Democrats are engaging in “all-or-nothing obstruction” as they hold out for a comprehensive deal worth about $2 trillion.

Democrats, meanwhile, accuse the GOP of failing to recognize the magnitude of the economic and health crisis gripping the country. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has called the Republican plan “partisan” and “emaciated.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 20, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

The legislation before the Senate on Wednesday included funds for a second Paycheck Protection Program loan for struggling small businesses, a $300 per week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, and liability protections for businesses, among other provisions. It did not include another round of direct payments to people.

The Senate vote on a bill that had little chance of becoming law came as Pelosi and Mnuchin extended their discussions toward a comprehensive agreement. The sides said they made progress in a conversation Tuesday. Both Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said they aim to have a deal in place before the end of the week.

Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke Wednesday afternoon, and the speaker’s office said they moved closer to being able to write legislation. The pair will talk again Thursday.

The negotiators face a range of political pitfalls with under two weeks until the election. After at one point pulling out of talks, President Donald Trump has pushed for a sprawling relief bill as voters head to the polls. He has even claimed he wants to put more money into a package than the $2.2 trillion Democrats seek.

But every step the White House takes toward Democrats’ position risks losing more Senate Republican support in a potential vote. It appears unlikely a bipartisan agreement would get the 13 Senate GOP votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

“If they’re going to come up with a $2 trillion bill that is going to put money on items that are not needed directly related to Covid, then that is not a direction we should travel,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., told CNBC on Wednesday.

The relief fight has brought challenging political calculations for Republicans. McConnell told his caucus he has encouraged the White House not to strike a comprehensive deal before the election, as it would divide the GOP before the election and vulnerable lawmakers want to get home to campaign after Monday’s vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, NBC News reported.

The Senate also tried to pass a bill on Tuesday to reopen the PPP. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican facing a difficult reelection challenge, was one of the measure’s co-authors.

Republicans made their second attempt to pass their relief legislation as Democrats criticized them for moving quickly to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. A CNBC/Change Research poll released Tuesday found a clear majority of voters in six swing states want Congress to pass more relief and believe the Senate should prioritize an aid bill over the Supreme Court nomination.

Respondents also said Democrats and Republicans share the blame almost evenly for the lack of new aid money.

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