WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the Republican-led Senate will vote this week on COVID-19 relief legislation after negotiations with Democrats broke off last month.
Senate Republicans’ $500 billion proposal released Tuesday would fund unemployment insurance, child care, coronavirus testing as well as creating liability protections for businesses, schools and churches operating during the pandemic.
“It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same. 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,” McConnell said in a statement.
The $1 trillion Heroes Act passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives in June has been deemed a nonstarter by Senate Republicans.
But the $500 billion proposal has almost no chance of passing the House. Congressional Democrats said the vote was political gamesmanship ahead of the November 3 election.
“We know that the majority leader will adjourn the Senate later this month to go home and campaign,” Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
“It appears all he wants is a show vote on a woefully inadequate bill that he knows can never become law and then get out of here. That's not a plan for action,” he added.
Millions of workers remain unemployed in the United States. Some U.S. employers have called back those who were laid off during mandatory business shutdowns earlier this year, yet hard-hit businesses have been slow to ramp up their operations again or have closed permanently, leaving workers idled or searching for new jobs.
Until the end of July, the national government sent an extra $600 a week to unemployed workers on top of less generous state jobless benefits. But Trump administration negotiators and opposition Democratic lawmakers have been unable to reach an agreement on how long to extend the federal benefit and for how much.
The Senate returned to Capitol Hill Tuesday for a shortened preelection session as hopes continue to diminish for passage of another relief bill to cope with the economic decline brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. After bipartisan unity led to the approval of a nearly $3 billion COVID-19 rescue package in the spring, the two sides have not been able to reach another agreement. The House of Representatives does not return to work until September 14.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said earlier Tuesday he was optimistic another measure would be passed before the November 3 presidential election but gave no indication of progress in talks with congressional Democrats.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Tuesday the Senate vote did not address the problems the nation faces.
The U.S. 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.