WASHINGTON ― Democrats are raising serious concerns about the Senate’s massive emergency legislation aimed at propping up the economy and giving relief to workers hit hard by the growing coronavirus pandemic, saying it’s tilted too far in favor of Wall Street and big corporations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) attempted to advance the bill on Sunday evening, emphasizing the need to move quickly to help those who have been laid off during the crisis. He said both sides had ample time to reach a deal on outstanding issues before a final vote on Monday. But Democrats unanimously blocked the measure over its provisions allowing the Trump administration to lend hundreds of billions of dollars to major industries like hotels, casinos, cruise lines, and oil and gas.
“We’re fiddling here, fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care,” a visibly frustrated McConnell said in a floor speech after the vote, accusing Democrats of partisan obstruction that threatened the economy.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said his party opposed moving forward with the bill “because among other problems it includes huge bailouts without protections for people and workers and without accountability, and because it shortchanges our hospitals and health care workers who need our help.”
Schumer said he was hopeful changes could be made in ongoing discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin but added that “we are not yet at that point.”
The high-stakes negotiations, which have been taking place all weekend, gained even more urgency on Sunday after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. He is the first member of the Senate to contract the virus. Four other Republican senators, some of whom were in close proximity to Paul on Capitol Hill earlier this week, are also self-isolating and did not vote Sunday.
“We’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends.”
The proposal, which would cost well over $1 trillion, includes hundreds of billions in loans for small businesses, many of which have been forced to close to fight the spread of the highly contagious virus. It would also provide a direct cash payment to the majority of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet as a wide span of business and services have been forced to cease.
Major sticking points remain as of Sunday night, however. Democrats want more funding for hospitals and health care workers across the country who have struggled with shortages of beds and protective gear. They’re also demanding a bigger expansion of unemployment benefits for workers who get fired due to the pandemic.
“Wall Street’s going to do just fine. They’ve always rebounded real well ... let’s take care of the people we’re asking to take care of us if we need them,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, said in a floor speech.
Democrats are also unhappy with the portion of the bill aimed at helping distressed industries with at least $450 billion in loans. The massive fund would be controlled by the Treasury Department and could include bailouts to hotels, casinos, cruise lines, and the oil and gas industry. It includes virtually no restrictions on how the money would be distributed, allowing properties owned directly by President Donald Trump to receive a bailout, for example, according to a Democratic aide familiar with the negotiations.
Another provision in the bill Democrats oppose would allow Mnuchin to delay publicly releasing the names of businesses that receive a bailout, as well as the amounts of those loans, for six months.
“We’re not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters. “We’re here to help workers, we’re here to help hospitals. And right now what the Republicans proposed does neither of those.”
Democrats have leverage over the final shape of the bill because it requires 60 votes for passage, and Republicans number only 53 in the 100-seat Senate. With several Republicans under quarantine, their advantage could be even smaller. The Senate is expected to try to advance the bill again Monday morning.
“We’re closer than we’ve been at any time over the past 48 hours to an agreement, but there are still too many problems in the proposed legislation,” Schumer said on the floor. “Can we overcome the remaining disagreements in the next 24 hours? Yes. We can and we should. The nation demands it.”
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