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Senate set to vote on bill as Democrats vow to block it



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WASHINGTON – The Senate plans to vote Thursday on a scaled-down, $300 billion coronavirus relief package, even while senators on both sides acknowledge it is unlikely to muster the votes to pass the chamber or ever become law.

The proposal, dubbed the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, includes additional unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans, funding for schools and liability protections for businesses and health care facilities.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced the package on Tuesday, after congressional leaders and the White House failed to agree on a stimulus package over weeks of negotiations. But even if all 53 Republicans in the chamber vote in favor of the bill, Democrats have vowed to filibuster the measure, leaving it unlikely to pass.

The continued impasse between Republicans and Democrats leaves the chance a coronavirus stimulus bill likely may not pass Congress before the November election. Lawmakers have only weeks left in session before the election and need to also pass a series of spending bills to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month. Both parties have sought to blame the other for the gridlock as COVID-19 continues to spread and millions go jobless. 

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the GOP bill “one of the most cynical moves ever seen” that would not attract bipartisan support because of “poison pill” provisions Democrats had long opposed like sections on school choice and corporate immunity from certain coronavirus-related lawsuits. 

“Anyone who thinks McConnell’s interested in getting a bill by putting this on the floor doesn’t really know what’s going on around here,” Schumer said Wednesday.   

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., similarly voiced opposition for the proposal, leaving no chance it would be taken up in the Democratic-led House if it did pass the Senate Thursday. 

Republicans acknowledged the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate and would stand more to show voters what type of relief the GOP is behind, as polling has continued to show a tough battle for a number of Republican incumbents —races that could allow Democrats to take charge of the chamber. 

McConnell, in a Senate floor speech Wednesday, called the vote “procedural,” explaining, “It’s not a vote to pass our bill tomorrow precisely as written” but something that may pressure Democrats back to the negotiating table. 

“It’s a vote for Senators to say whether they want to move forward toward huge amounts of relief for kids, jobs, and health care, or whether they are happier doing nothing,” McConnell said on the floor. “That is what every single Senator will decide tomorrow. Do you want to do something? Or do you want to do nothing?”

But it’s not just Democrats threatening to block the bill. A number of Republicans have expressed skepticism over the package, including Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said he would not vote for it, and John Hawley, R-Mo., who said he is undecided. Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, who faces a tough race in Alabama, was also on the fence about the proposal. 

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., was not optimistic that both sides would come together to broker a deal on coronavirus relief, saying he believes Democrats wanted to use this issue in the November races. “I think our members want to at least put up, want to put something out there that is targeted, is fiscally responsible and it’s realistic,” he said.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. who chairs the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, also expressed skepticism a bipartisan deal would happen on another relief package, telling reporters, “unless something really broke through, it’s not going to happen.”

Asked Wednesday about the prospects of another relief bill this year, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, one of the lead White House negotiators, told reporters, “I don’t know. We’ll see. I hope there is. It’s important to a lot of people out there.”

Among the provisions in the bill: 

  • A $300 bolster to weekly unemployment benefits – reduced from a $600 boost that expired in July – that will run through Dec. 27. The amount is what President Donald Trump promised the federal government would provide out-of-work Americans in an executive order last month.
  • Liability protections for businesses, hospitals, churches and schools against some COVID-19-related personal injury claims.
  • A second round of loans under the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. Businesses will have to have less than 300 employees and show at least a 35% gross revenue reduction compared with last year.
  • A $10 billion loan given to the Postal Service would be forgiven and thus turned into a grant. The Postal Service would be required to offer a report to Congress on how the virus has increased its expenses. 
  • Offers $105 billion through an Education Stabilization Fund for schools as students go back to classes across the country. The bill also includes a two-year tax credit for private schools and other scholarship-granting organizations.
  • $16 billion for coronavirus testing and $31 billion for development of a vaccine and therapeutics.

The measure doesn’t include many top priorities for Democrats – who passed a massive $3 trillion bill in May in the House. It does not include more funding for state and local governments that have seen budget shortcomings, including some that are planning to furlough workers. The measure also does not include another round of stimulus checks for Americans. 

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President Donald Trump said Friday vaccine trials are on track to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Trump told reporters “three vaccines are in the final stage of clinical trials” and that “results are expected shortly.” (Sept. 4)

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More: When will the extra $300 in unemployment benefits start? Don’t expect it anytime soon, experts warn

Pelosi and Schumer spent weeks negotiating with the White House on another coronavirus stimulus package. But talks dissolved as Congress went on a monthlong recess over August with both sides blaming the other as millions of Americans saw bolstered unemployment benefits run dry and a small-business loan program stop. 

With talks in limbo, Trump signed four executive orders in August, hoping to fill the voids left by several programs expiring, including the enhanced unemployment insurance and a moratorium that prevented renters from being evicted.

But questions remain over the legality of the orders, and they have taken weeks to implement, with some experts warning it could be weeks before many unemployed Americans see any additional benefits. 

Contributing: Nicholas Wu

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