by Jordain Carney · March 22, 2020
Senate Democrats on Sunday blocked a coronavirus stimulus package from moving forward as talks on several key provisions remain stalled.
Senators voted 47-47 on advancing a “shell” bill, a placeholder that the text of the stimulus legislation would have been swapped into, falling short of the two-thirds threshold needed to move forward.
Hopes of a quick stimulus deal quickly unraveled on Sunday as the four congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to break the impasse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also delayed the procedural vote for three hours as they tried to get a deal.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that staffers were working to try to change “problematic” provisions of the GOP draft legislation.
Democratic senators argue that the GOP bill includes several “non-starters,” and walks back areas of agreement, like on expanding unemployment insurance, they thought they had reached with Republicans.
They emerged from a closed-door lunch fuming over the bill circulated by Republicans and called for McConnell to hold off on the 3 p.m. cloture vote.
“We are pleading with McConnell not to call this vote,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat said after the lunch. “It’s a serious mistake. We have not negotiated this to the point of agreement yet.”
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is up for reelection in a deeply red state, said that the Senate needed to be “as unified as possible.”
“We don’t need split votes,” he said.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) added that the proposal put forward by Republicans was “totally inadequate.”
That resulted in McConnell delaying the vote to 6 p.m.
The vote eventually moved forward with five GOP senators absent. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) announced Sunday morning he had tested positive for coronavirus and would self-quarantine. That led to two colleagues he had interacted with, Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, announcing they would also self-quarantine and miss the vote.
Republican Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) had previously and unrelated to Paul’s announcement said they would self-quarantine as a precaution.
Schumer did not say ahead of the vote that Democrats would block the package from advancing, instead noting that the various task forces that were established by McConnell to negotiate the bill were reconvening.
“There are issues that have not been resolved, there are serious issues. We hope that we can get them resolved quickly,” Schumer said.
And McConnell vowed minutes before the vote that he would move forward as planned, saying that the coronavirus crisis wouldn’t wait while Congress “slips back into conventional politics or haggles endlessly over the finer points.”
“What we have, is a compromise product which contains ideas, contributions, and priorities from both sides and which could become law as soon as tomorrow. In other words — it is just about time to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) added that they had not formally been told that Democrats would block the bill, but acknowledged that individual members had indicated their opposition.
“Hopefully we can get everybody on board with this thing today and get it out of here,” he told reporters.
He added that if Democrats blocked the bill, “they better have a plan ready to go because we don’t have plenty of time.”
But the outcome appeared all but guaranteed as even members from across the Democratic caucus indicated that they would vote against advancing the bill unless leadership could work out an 11th hour deal.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called the bill the “same old repeated story from Mitch McConnell.”
“I’m not going to vote yes then no and this and that. …If they can work out something between now and three, then that’s fine,” he added.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen called the GOP bill “bad news” and that it was focused on “bailing out the biggest corporations.” He added that blocking the bill over the procedural hurdle could force both sides back to the negotiating table.
“In my view right now it would be giving people unrealistic hope to proceed now. We should let people know immediately that Republicans have taken a u-turn,” he said.
The Hill · by Jordain Carney · March 22, 2020