WASHINGTON – Top Republican senators made pessimistic predictions Wednesday about securing a bipartisan coronavirus relief package before the November election, signaling instead they will just try to pass legislation that would avoid a federal shutdown as lawmakers head home to campaign.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he was “optimistic” that Republicans would deliver strong support for the GOP's $500 billion slimmed-down COVID-19 rescue package in a test vote Thursday. But he declined to say whether his majority would be fully on board. Democrats have indicated they will shelve the Republican measure as insufficient, leaving lawmakers at an impasse.
There’s no indication yet that bipartisan talks that crumbled last month will restart. Lawmakers closely tracking recent efforts to strike a deal that could pass before the November election said they saw little reason for hope.
“Unless something really broke through, it’s not going to happen,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The stalemate is politically risky for all sides heading into the fall election that will decide not only the presidency, but also control of Congress.
While nationwide coronavirus cases appear to be at a plateau, there is still widespread economic hardship and social unease in homes, schools and businesses affected by closures. Experts warn that infections are expected to spike again if Americans fail to abide by public health guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing, especially with colder weather and flu season.
McConnell said Democrats have not backed off what he said were unreasonable demands. He accused Democrats of acting as though it is to their political advantage to deny Republicans and President Donald Trump a victory on the virus so close to Election Day. Without Democratic votes, the GOP bill cannot reach the threshold needed to advance the aid plan. “They do not want any bipartisan relief,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the GOP bill leaves out too many people, especially the vulnerable.