Coronavirus Relief: Senate Republicans Cast Doubt on COVID Relief Bill’s Prospects

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters after the Senate Republican luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., September 9 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Senate Republicans cast doubt on Wednesday over the prospect of passing a bipartisan coronavirus relief package ahead of the November election, suggesting they would instead aim to pass legislation to avoid a federal shutdown.

While Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R., K.Y.) said he was “optimistic” that the GOP’s $500 billion skinny COVID-19 package would garner solid support from Republicans in a test vote on Thursday, Democrats have called the bill insufficient, furthering months of political gridlock over the stimulus in the Senate.

“Unless something really broke through, it’s not going to happen,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R., Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, according to the Associated Press, on the prospect of restarting negotiations that fell apart last month and reaching a deal before November. He added that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are itching to head home to campaign rather than stay in Washington.

The pessimism surrounding the bill’s prospects has reportedly prompted the White House to consider implementing additional executive orders that would direct funding to the airline industry and extend increased unemployment benefits, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

McConnell accused the Democrats of forcing unreasonable demands and behaving as though it will be politically advantageous to keep Republicans and President Trump from a victory on the virus so close to election day.

“They do not want any bipartisan relief,” he said.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) criticized the GOP bill that cuts out many of the provisions included in the $3.5 trillion relief bill that passed in the House in May, saying the GOP legislation “does nothing.”

“There are millions of kids who are food insecure, millions, maybe 14 million in our country, food insecure. He has nothing for that,” Pelosi said during an appearance on MSNBC on Monday. “There are millions of families, victims of evictions because they can’t pay the rent. They don’t care about that.”

The Republicans’ package would provide $105 billion to help schools reopen; instate a reduced weekly unemployment benefit supplement of $300; set aside $31 billion for a coronavirus vaccine, $16 billion for virus testing and $15 billion to help child care providers reopen; provide $20 billion for farmers; and devote $258 billion for a second round of paycheck protection subsidies.

Absent from the GOP bill is a second round of $1,200 stimulus payments to Americans. 

McConnell and other Republicans have expressed support for a short-term spending measure — a continuing resolution (CR) — in light of the stalemate to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month, setting up a session for after the election to handle unfinished legislation, which could include coronavirus relief.

“My guess would be that if we leave in September with a CR, we will not come back to do anything before the election,” Senator Roy Blunt, (R-Mo.) told the AP.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer expressed indecision over supporting a December date for a stopgap measure. Some Democrats are seeking to push unfinished spending bills into next year as they are optimistic about presidential nominee Joe Biden’s ability to win the presidency in November.

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