WASHINGTON – The Senate prepared to vote this week on a trimmed-down Republican coronavirus relief package, though it only has a slim chance of passage in the face of Democrats' insistence for more sweeping aid.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the approximately $500 billion measure on Tuesday as senators returned to Washington for an abbreviated pre-election session, but hopes were dimming for another coronavirus relief bill — or much else.
Republicans struggling to retain their Senate majority this fall have been divided, with some GOP senators in close races anxious to respond further to the pandemic, even as conservatives are tiring of all the spending and passing legislation in concert with liberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
McConnell called the package “a targeted proposal that focuses on several of the most urgent aspects of this crisis, the issues where bipartisanship should be especially possible." They included school aid, new money for vaccines and testing, and a second round of the popular Paycheck Protection Program for smaller businesses.
Democrats demanded a far larger bill, including hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, more generous jobless benefits, and help for renters and homeowners, along with other provisions in the House Democrats' $3.5 trillion relief bill that passed in May.
“Get real, Mitch McConnell,” Pelosi said during a Bloomberg interview. “It’s only a ‘check the box’ so that some of his endangered Republican senators can go home and say, ‘Well, see, I tried.’ But it isn’t trying. It is not even an attempt to do the right thing.”
Republican senators such as Susan Collins of Maine are eager to show constituents they are continuing to work to ease the pandemic’s disastrous impact on jobs, businesses and health. But many Senate Republicans are resisting more spending, and the scaled-back bill is roughly half the size of a measure McConnell unveiled earlier this summer.
McConnell's move Tuesday would clear the way for a Thursday test vote in which Democrats were sure to block the legislation. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the bill “doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere."