- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Senate Republicans returned Tuesday from their summer break with a new $500 billion coronavirus relief package, teeing up a partisan clash later this week with Democrats, who want a much larger price tag.

Stepping in after negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House collapsed a month ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber will pursue a “targeted” bill to extend unemployment assistance and revitalize support for small businesses.

It’s nowhere near the more than $3 trillion House Democrats passed in the early summer, nor the $2 trillion compromise Mrs. Pelosi said she would accept. But Mr. McConnell said he was moving forward anyway, saying the unemployment and small-business money shouldn’t be held hostage to other disagreements.

“The Democratic leaders have spent months playing these Goldilocks games. They’ve complained about every single thing we’ve put forward,” the Kentucky Republican said. “[Republicans] want to agree where bipartisan agreement is possible, get more help out the door, and then keep arguing over the rest later.”

He took steps to set up a vote by the end of this week.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said it’s “certain to fail.”

He said Mr. McConnell was struggling to find unity within Senate Republicans, which is why the bill is about half the size of Mr. McConnell’s last $1 trillion proposal in July.

“This is one of the most cynical moves that I have ever seen,” the New York Democrat said.

The bill would provide an extension for unemployment payments, giving those out of work $300 a week in federal benefits on top of whatever they get from their state. That’s less than the $600 a week approved in an earlier round of coronavirus relief, which House Democrats’ bill extends in full.

But it’s an increase from the $200 a week the GOP included in its July proposal.

The new bill also revives the small business Paycheck Protection Program with more than $250 billion in additional funds. To qualify, businesses need to have less than 300 employees and show at least 35% in gross revenue reduction compared to last year.

There is also $105 billion for schools, $15 billion for child care providers, as well as funds for scholarship-granting organizations that would help families with children in private school or homeschooling programs, and a two-year tax credit for anyone who donates to such organizations.

Republicans included an additional $16 billion for coronavirus testing and a provision that turns a $10 billion Postal Service loan into a grant for the agency.

Mr. McConnell’s bill would also grant liability protections to small businesses and health care providers against COVID-related injuries.

Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer blasted the bill for the lack of direct money for states and localities whose budgets are struggling. House Democrats’ bill includes more than $900 billion for that purpose alone.

They also said provisions such as the liability protection are nonstarters for their side.

Mr. McConnell said the unemployment and small business money are areas of agreement, and argued striving for agreement on more issues would take too long.

“It is not a sweeping multitrillion-dollar plan to rebuild the entire country in Republicans’ image. It does not even contain every single relief policy that Republicans ourselves think would help in the short term,” he said. “But the American people don’t need us to keep arguing over what might be perfect.”

He told reporters he expects the bill to get a vote Thursday.

Mr. McConnell is trying to show a more united front on this slimmed-down bill than the proposal from July, where the $1 trillion price tag angered some Senate Republicans.

He also hopes to put Democrats in the position of voting against a relief bill in the months before the election.

Mr. McConnell pointed to a letter from more than 100 House Democrats last month asking Mrs. Pelosi to postpone her demand for a broad coronavirus bill and pass legislation targeted specifically at extending the $600-a-week unemployment boost.

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