Senate expected to vote on COVID-19 relief bill this week
WASHINGTON (ABC News) – Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday that the Senate will vote on a GOP proposal for coronavirus relief on Thursday.
This will be the first formal vote of the Senate on more sweeping coronavirus relief since March.
“The Senate is going to vote on this targeted proposal. We’re going to get the stonewalling of Democratic leaders out from behind closed doors and put this to a vote out here on the floor,” McConnell said during his floor remarks Tuesday. “Senators will not be voting on whether this package satisfiies every one of their legislative hopes and dreams. That is not what we do in this chamber.”
The new proposal is meant as a more “targeted” approach to COVID-19 relief, and is expected to cost less than McConnell’s previous $1 trillion proposal, the HEALS act.
A copy of the bill text obtained by ABC News shows that the slimmed-down proposal includes $105 billion for schools and a two-year tax credit for school choice, as well as $29 billion for vaccines and $16 billion for testing.
The proposal would also provide additional funding for the paycheck protection program with the possibility of loan forgiveness for small businesses.
Unemployment benefits of $300 a week to individuals who have lost their jobs will also be considered as part of this proposal. Currently, many are receiving these benefits due to executive action by President Donald Trump, though funding for that program could soon run out. The Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that the unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent in August, the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic.
Unlike previous GOP proposals, however, this bill does not include another round of direct payment checks to Americans.
But while the new GOP plan is believed to be supported by more Senate Republicans this time around, it is expected to fail.
“Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a joint statement Tuesday. “If anyone doubts McConnell’s true intent is anything but political, just look at the bill. This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support.”
The lack of necessary Democratic support would deprive McConnell of the 60 votes he needs to pass the bill which also has the support of the Administration.
“The president and I believe we should do more stimulus,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Sunday on Fox News Sunday. “We have about seven and a half million jobs that we need to get back until we’re back to where we were up. And we want to help small businesses, we want to help businesses that are particularly impacted by this, and we’ll continue to work on proposed new legislation.”
Democrats for weeks have decried any sort of “piecemeal” approach to COVID-19 relief. Pelosi called the previous $1 trillion proposal “anorexic.” And in a letter to his caucus on Thursday, Schumer shut down any hope of Democratic support of the proposal McConnell introduced Tuesday.
“Republicans may call their proposal “skinny,” but it would be more appropriate to call it “emaciated”, Schumer wrote in a letter to his caucus on Thursday. “Their proposal appears to be completely inadequate and, by every measure, fails to meet the needs of the American people.”
The latest Senate GOP legislation would give some of the chamber’s most vulnerable Republicans facing re-election in November an opportunity to cast a vote in favor of COVID-19 relief ahead of the election, particularly as bipartisan talks have shown no sign of a breakthrough.
It is currently unclear whether the bulk of the GOP conference supports this new proposal, but one GOP leadership aide indicated the number is close to 51 with the hope of hitting that number by vote time.
McConnell’s HEALS act never met a vote on the floor in part because at least half of the Republican conference failed to get behind it. Some members are reluctant to authorize any additional spending on the crisis, citing concern about the sky-high deficit.
Democrats are continuing to dig in on their $3 trillion relief plan, the HEROES Act, that is a non-starter for the administration or Republicans.
The president has not met directly with the Democratic leaders throughout the negotiations. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have negotiated on his behalf.
Trump, during a news conference Monday, said that he believes Pelosi and Schumer are disinterested in reaching a deal.
“Let me just tell you, I know my customers, that’s what I do. I know Pelosi, I know Schumer very well,” Trump said. “They don’t wanna make a deal, because they think it’s good for politics if they don’t make a deal. This has nothing to do with anything other than you have to know who you’re dealing with. I do.”
Aside from disagreements about the top-line price for the bill, aid for state and local governments remains a sticking point in negotiations. Republicans have argued that many states still have funding available from previous COVID-19 relief bills.
Pelosi was back on Capitol Hill Tuesday, but aides tell ABC News she has no scheduled plans to meet with the president’s negotiators this week. Both sides maintain publicly, however, that they’re hopeful another bi-partisan deal can be reached.
In negotiations between Pelosi, Schumer and members of the Trump administration, the Democrats said they offered to lower their proposal to $2 trillion. Republicans said that price was still far too high.
ABC News’ John Parkinson contributed to this report