As predicted, Senate Republicans’ “skinny” COVID-19 relief package fell Thursday along party lines.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was the one defection on the 52-47 vote, a move he previewed, announcing his objection to government spending. In that small way, it was a win for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who successfully wrangled a splintered caucus into line to stand behind the legislation.
Democratic leadership was vocal about their opposition to the legislation, which they view as pathetically paltry and far less than what the battered country needs.
“Today, the Senate will take a rather pointless vote on the latest, highly partisan Republican emaciated COVID relief bill,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said this morning from the Senate floor. “This bill is not going to happen because it is so emaciated, so filled with poison pills, so partisanly designed — it was designed to fail.”
“Let’s not have tokenism when we have a major disaster,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) added later in the morning. “Let’s not have a ‘skinny bill’ when we have a massive problem.”
McConnell tweeted soon after the vote.
“Every Senate Democrat just voted against hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID-19 relief,” he said. “They blocked money for schools, testing, vaccines, unemployment insurance, and the Paycheck Protection Program. Their goal is clear: No help for American families before the election.”
While Democrats would likely counter with their months-long argument that the House passed the HEROES Act in May, a comprehensive relief package ridiculed as a “liberal wish list” by McConnell, the leader is probably right on one count: that the likelihood of any COVID-19 relief coming from Congress before the election is very remote.
Talks between Pelosi, Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have been stagnant for months.
Most recently, Pelosi and Mnuchin agreed to try everything in their power to avoid a government shutdown when the budget expires at the end of September. That translates to a continuing resolution, a measure to keep government spending at current levels for a still-undetermined number of months.
Pelosi confirmed Thursday that the CR would be “clean,” lacking any COVID-19 relief.
“I have said publicly that I’m for a clean CR, Mr. Mnuchin — Mr. Secretary has said he’s for a clean CR, so we’re down that path,” she said. “We are now looking at anomalies and the rest and will figure out the timing when we do.”
“‘Clean’ meaning no additional things,” she later emphasized. “COVID would not meet that definition and those negotiations are separate from this.”
Alleviating the pressure from an impending shutdown leaves no natural junctures for the two sides to come together on COVID-19 relief in the two months until the election. They’re still trillions apart and guided by wholly different approaches — Democrats insist on a comprehensive package, while Republicans balk at the price tag. Barring major concessions from either side, it’s hard to see a path to compromise.
“My guess would be that if we leave in September with a CR, we will not come back to do anything before the election,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO).