- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2020

Senate Democrats again blocked a $1.8 trillion economic rescue package for the coronavirus pandemic on Monday, as the White House negotiated furiously behind closed doors on the package and House Democrats rolled out a rival $2.5 trillion proposal containing partisan “wish-list” items such as same-day voter registration.

The Senate test vote on the aid package failed 49-46, with all the “no” votes coming from Democrats a day after they blocked a first attempt to begin debate on the bill itself. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.

By 6 p.m., Senate leaders said they didn’t expect any votes Monday night, although talks were continuing. President Trump called on the Senate to pass the Republicans’ bill “and avoid playing any more partisan games.”

SEE ALSO: Pelosi’s coronavirus bill proposes election audits, same-day voter registration

“They have to get together and just stop with the partisan politics,” Mr. Trump said. “I think that’s happening. It’s not really a choice. They have to make a deal. This should not be a time for political agendas, but rather one for focusing solely and squarely on the needs of the American people.”

The president during the coronavirus task force briefing said he planned to get the economy going again soon. “We’re going to be opening up our country,” he said. Asked if it would take weeks or months, Mr. Trump replied, “I’m not looking at months.”

Republicans accused congressional Democrats of prioritizing ideological goodies such as carbon taxes and corporate diversity quotas over a bipartisan agreement to help shuttered industries and idled workers.

“Are you kidding me? This is not a juicy political opportunity. This is a national emergency,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

After the vote, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin continued negotiations with Senate Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Mr. McConnell. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Mnuchin said they were close to an agreement.

The Federal Reserve, meanwhile, announced new steps to ease corporate and consumer debt, signaling it would do essentially whatever it takes to save the U.S economy until the pandemic eases. The central bank also announced it soon will roll out a “Main Street Business Lending Program” to bolster congressional efforts to expand lending by about $350 billion through the Small Business Administration.

The actions did little to calm plunging financial markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 582 points, or 3%, to close at 18,591. The S&P 500 fell 2.9%, while the Nasdaq was down 0.2%.

The Senate Republicans’ bill would provide direct payments of $1,200 to adults earning less than $75,000 annually and include $500 for each child. It also would allocate $350 billion in loans to small businesses to address layoffs, add $250 billion to unemployment insurance and create a $500 billion program for businesses, states and localities.

Democrats have criticized the $500 billion program as a “slush fund” for administration-favored corporations.

“The bill still includes something that most Americans don’t want to see: large corporate bailouts with almost no strings attached,” Mr. Schumer said.

Tempers flared on the Senate floor as the impasse dragged on. When Mr. Schumer blocked Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine from speaking on the floor, she responded, “You are objecting to my speaking? This is appalling.”

Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican, warned his Democratic colleagues: “The country is burning and your side wants to play political games.”

Mr. McConnell said of the Democratic efforts to change the bill, “The American people have had enough of this nonsense. They’d like to know what’s going on here. The bazaar is apparently open on the other side.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, urged Republicans to “take a deep breath.”

“The emotions we’ve seen on both sides of the aisle are reflected in homes across America,” Mr. Durbin said. “But we are going to solve this problem.”

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her competing rescue bill Monday, Republicans reacted with a fury at what they said was a partisan laundry list of proposals not worthy of an emergency economic rescue plan.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, also blamed Mrs. Pelosi for distracting the attention of official Washington to President Trump’s impeachment in December and January, when the coronavirus was spreading rapidly in China. He reminded the Senate that Mrs. Pelosi delayed sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate for four weeks.

“As we were dealing with this impeachment garbage, China was on fire,” Mr. Graham said. “You’ll hear more about that later in the year.”

He said in remarks directed at Mrs. Pelosi, “We’re not going to let you turn the country upside down to shape it in your image.”

Tucked into House Democrats’ coronavirus relief bill are provisions for “risk-limiting audits” of elections and same-day voter registration, items long sought by Democrats but unrelated to the pandemic, Republicans charged. “Risk-limiting audits of results of elections,” called for in a section of the bill, generally requires a manual review of statistical samples of paper ballots to see if official election results were tallied correctly.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, accused Mrs. Pelosi of trying to add “liberal wish list” items to the emergency bill.

“Same-day voter registration? Where does that fit in a bill to rescue the American people who, right now, find themselves in the throes of a disease that may kill them?” Mr. Barrasso asked on the Senate floor.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, picked apart the Pelosi bill, for example mocking its proposal for diversity on corporate boards of directors.

“The Democrats want to impose quotas for race and sex on corporate boards,” Mr. Cotton said. “I know they’ve wanted to do that for a long time. Is that going to stop anyone from getting sick from the coronavirus?”

Of early voting and same-day voter registration, Mr. Cotton asked, “Now they want to pile election rules on a bill that’s designed to stop a pandemic?”

He also took aim at the Democrats’ proposal for airlines to go “carbon-neutral” by 2025 with emissions offsets.

“I wonder if that will apply to the private planes that Nancy Pelosi and her family flies in, and all their buddies in Hollywood,” Mr. Cotton said.

More than $150 billion in the House Democrats’ version would be funneled into the healthcare system — hospitals, care centers, and other facilities — to shore up resources for equipment and programs for coronavirus treatment. It also would strengthen worker requirements to better protect those working directly to combat the disease.

Their plan to give direct cash payments to the public would extend $1,500 per individual and up to $7,500 to a family of five.

The bill would create a temporary employment program that would pay $600 per week to any worker affected by the coronavirus’ economic impact, which combined with other benefits, should provide full compensation. It also expands which workers would be eligible for unemployment benefits.

It also expands on several aspects of the second coronavirus package — including paid sick leave benefits, food stamps and eliminating copays for all coronavirus treatments.

The measure would set aside more than $500 billion in grants and interest-free loans for small businesses, many of which have been shuttered by government-mandated shelter-in-place and self-quarantine policies.

There is $215 billion in grants allocated for state and local governments to help continue to fund public services. It also gives $60 billion to schools and universities.

Mrs. Pelosi told reporters that the House could be willing to vote on the package this week, depending on what unfolds in the Senate.

“That is a hope yes, but we’ll see what the Senate does,” she said.

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