Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package on Thursday as the parties argued to a standstill over the size and scope of the aid, likely ending hopes for coronavirus relief before the November election.
The mostly party-line vote capped weeks of wrangling that gave way to election-season political combat and name-calling over a fifth relief bill that all sides say they want but are unable to deliver. The bipartisan spirit that powered earlier aid measures is all but gone.
Democrats said the measure shortchanged too many pressing needs. Republicans argued it was targeted to areas of widespread agreement, but the 52-47 vote fell well short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster. All the present Democrats opposed it, while conservative Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the only GOP “nay” vote. The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, was campaigning in Miami and missed the vote.
“It’s a sort of a dead end street, and very unfortunate,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “But it is what it is.”
The $500 billion measure is roughly half the size of legislation promoted by Republican leaders this summer. But that version was too big for most conservatives, so the GOP bill was instead stripped back to focus on school aid, jobless benefits and help for small businesses. That maximized Republican support even as it alienated Democrats, who say such a piecemeal approach would leave out far too many vulnerable people.
The result was a predictable impasse and partisan tit-for tat as the congressional session limps to its pre-election close. The panicked atmosphere that drove passage of the $2 trillion landmark CARES Act in March has dissipated as the nation powers through the pandemic with partial reopenings of businesses and schools, though the economy lags and the virus continues to badly disrupt life in the U.S.
It’s becoming plain that all Congress will do before the Nov. 3 election is pass legislation to avert a government shutdown. The outcome of the election promises to have an outsize impact on what might be possible in a postelection lame-duck session, with Democrats sure to press for a better deal if Democrat Joe Biden unseats President Donald Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted that Thursday’s GOP defeat would prompt Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., back to the negotiating table, as an earlier filibuster in March helped make the $2 trillion rescue bill more generous.
“But (Thursday’s) bill is not going to happen because it is so emaciated, so filled with poison pills, so partisanly designed,” Schumer said.