The U.S. Senate failed to pass a trimmed-down coronavirus relief package Thursday, capping months of unsuccessful negotiations to bring a second round of economic aid to millions of Americans impacted by the pandemic. The $500 billion proposal put forward by Senate Republicans failed to advance to debate on a 52-47 vote.
The failure significantly increases the prospect U.S. lawmakers will not pass a relief package before the November 3 election. Members of Congress are expected to leave Washington to campaign in their home districts after passing a continuing resolution funding the government past a September 30 deadline.
The proposal’s defeat also means millions of Americans put out of work by coronavirus closures earlier in the year will not receive enhanced federal unemployment benefits. Under the $3 trillion CARES Act passed by bipartisan agreement in March, unemployed workers received an extra $600 a week in benefits. Those benefits expired at the end of July.
The Senate Republicans’ proposal would have funded unemployment insurance, child care and coronavirus testing, and it would have created liability protections for businesses, schools and churches operating during the pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell framed Democratic opposition to the proposal as an effort to politicize the aid ahead of the upcoming election.
“Senators who share the Democratic leader’s toxic attitude, who think the real enemy are their political opponents, may follow his lead and vote ‘no.’ They can tell American families they care more about politics than helping them. But senators who want to move forward will vote ‘yes.’ They’ll vote to advance this process so we can shape it into a bipartisan product and make a law for the American people,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday.
The New York Times reports that according to two anonymous sources, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her fellow House Democrats after the Senate vote, “When you are in a negotiation, the last place to get weak knees is at the end.”
Congressional Democrats have argued much more aid is needed, using the $3 trillion Heroes Act passed in June by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives as a starting point in negotiations.
“Let's not have a skinny bill when we have a massive problem,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday, describing her objections to the Republican proposal to reporters.
“We need every penny in order to stop this. And that's the way we’re going to open up our economy. And that's the way we're going to open up our schools safely, is by crushing the virus,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pushed back against a Republican assertion the narrowly focused proposal represented a compromise.
“While the president was lying to the American people about the coronavirus, Senate Republicans were following suit in spirit. The Republican leader himself talked about ‘the lack of urgency’ in his caucus to address the problem,” Schumer said Thursday.
“So, the idea that Democrats — who passed a comprehensive relief package through the House nearly four months ago — are the cause of delay and obstruction is ridiculous. It's been the Republicans all along. The record shows it.”
While the U.S. economy is showing some signs of recovery, including increased retail spending and hospitality industry hiring, other segments have been slower to recover. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates remain high, with 29.6 million Americans filing claims to receive government benefit payments.
The United States leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 deaths, with nearly 190,000. The U.S. is also home to a world-leading 6.3 million coronavirus infections, nearly one-quarter of the more than 27.3 million worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.