WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a coronavirus relief plan far smaller than what lawmakers on both sides of the aisle spent weeks arguing over. It’s a bill that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says isn’t perfect.
The proposal faces an uphill battle to becoming law as Democrats instantly vowed to block what they called a political ploy to help endangered Republicans in November and not meet the needs of American families and businesses.
The estimated $300 billion proposal, dubbed the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, includes bolstered unemployment benefits, funding for schools and liability protections for businesses and healthcare facilities.
What does it include?
A $300 bolster to weekly unemployment benefits – reduced from a $600 boost that expired in July – that will run through Dec. 27. The amount is what President Trump promised the federal government would provide out-of-work Americans in an executive order last month.
Liability protections for businesses, hospitals, churches and schools against some COVID-related personal injury claims.
A second round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Businesses will have to have less than 300 employees and show at least a 35% gross revenue reduction compared with last year.
A $10 billion loan given to the Postal Service would be forgiven and thus turned into a grant. The Postal Service would be required to offer a report to Congress on how the virus has increased its expenses, an issue that has drawn scrutiny.
Offers $105 billion through an Education Stabilization Fund for schools as students go back to classes across the country. The bill also includes a two-year tax credit for private schools and other scholarship-granting organizations.
$16 billion for coronavirus testing and $31 billion for development of a vaccine and therapeutics
For farmers, it includes $20 billion in relief and for fishers, $500 million in federal assistance.
What does it leave out?
But the measure doesn’t include many top priorities for Democrats – who passed a massive $3 trillion bill in May. It does not include more funding for state and local governments that have seen budget shortcomings, including some that are planning to furlough workers. The measure also does not include another round of stimulus checks for Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said an initial vote on the measure would happen Thursday – during Congress’ first week back in town from a monthlong recess – though he did acknowledge the bill is not perfect and doesn’t contain polices sought by members of both parties.
“It’s not a sweeping, multi-trillion-dollar plan to rebuild the entire country,” McConnell said about the bill on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. “It does not contain every single relief policy that Republicans, ourselves, think would help in the short-term. I’m confident the Democrats would feel the same way but the American people don’t need us to keep arguing over what might be perfect. They need us to actually make a law.”
Why Democrats won’t support the bill
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., bashed the bill and vowed to block it before the text of the proposal had even been released, calling it an “emaciated bill” with “poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support.”
“As they scramble to make up for this historic mistake, Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere,” the leaders said in a statement. “This emaciated bill is only intended to help vulnerable Republican Senators by giving them a ‘check the box’ vote to maintain the appearance that they’re not held hostage by their extreme right-wing that doesn’t want to spend a nickel to help people.”
The legislation will need 51 Senate votes to move forward, meaning McConnell can only lose a few Republican votes if no Democrats vote in favor of it. Republicans spent part of the August recess attempting to craft a bill that would garner enough support from their own party to pass the chamber.
“It does not contain every idea our party likes,” McConnell said of the bill. “Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation.”
But Schumer said later on the Senate floor, “if you want to draft a bill that is certain to fail, this is it.”
“As the pain from this pandemic gets bigger and bigger, Republicans think smaller and smaller,” he said.
More: Trump, Pelosi, McConnell blame one another as new coronavirus aid package remains out of reach
More: When will the extra $300 in unemployment benefits start? Don’t expect it anytime soon, experts warn
Negotiations on relief to this point
Pelosi and Schumer spent weeks negotiating with the White House on another coronavirus stimulus package. But talks dissolved as Congress went on a monthlong recess over August with both sides blaming the other as millions of Americans saw bolstered unemployment benefits run dry and a small-business loan program stop.
With talks in limbo, Trump signed four executive orders in August, hoping to fill the voids left by several programs expiring, including the enhanced unemployment insurance and a moratorium that prevented renters from being evicted.
But questions remain over the legality of the orders, and they have taken weeks to implement, with some experts warning it could be weeks before many unemployed Americans see any additional benefits.
House Democrats passed a $3 trillion COVID-19 measure in May that was roundly rejected by Republicans. Throughout negotiations, Democrats agreed to lower the overall price tag on their bill by $1 trillion but still talks dissolved.
McConnell refused to bring the bill up, calling it a liberal wish list. Instead, he unveiled a $1 trillion measure in July that did not have the backing of many in his own conference. The bill never came to the Senate floor for a vote.
Pandemic relief in an election year
The impasse has left lawmakers in key battleground states and districts in a difficult position. More than 100 House Democrats wrote a letter to Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., urging the leaders to schedule a vote to continue a $600 bolstered unemployment benefit that expired at the end of July.
Republicans, who are facing an increasingly tough battle to keep their Senate majority, could also face political ramifications over the deadlock. The bill released Tuesday and the likely Democratic opposition could help Republicans argue ahead of November that they are fighting for more relief for Americans.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 relief: Senate Republicans unveil skinny bill amid opposition