POLITICS

Key Vote To Advance Stimulus Fails A Second Time Over Democratic Opposition

Mar 23, 2020, 12:25 PM | Updated: 12:28 pm
Senators are continuing to negotiate on a massive economic stimulus package, hoping a deal will soo...
Senators are continuing to negotiate on a massive economic stimulus package, hoping a deal will soon come together after efforts to reach consensus were dealt a major blow over the weekend, even as coronavirus struck one of their own. (Erin Schaff/AP/FILE)
(Erin Schaff/AP/FILE)

(CNN) — A key Senate procedural vote to move ahead with an economic stimulus plan failed for a second time on Monday afternoon over Democratic opposition, a development that will ratchet up tensions on Capitol Hill as lawmakers attempt to reach a consensus deal to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Senate Democrats lined up against the vote to defeat it, just as they did Sunday when an earlier attempted procedural vote failed. Democrats have argued that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should not be holding what they have called “arbitrary” votes while negotiators are still attempting to reach a bipartisan deal.

One key holdup appears to still be roughly $500 billion in funds for loans and loan guarantees for distressed companies, states and localities without enough guidelines or oversight to satisfy Democrats, who seek to prevent bailout for large companies without ensuring that most of the benefits will go to the workers. But pushback from Democrats also has centered on not only the substance of the legislation, but on the process that Republicans used to come up with it as well, arguing that they were locked out of negotiations at the start.

The failed vote Monday, however, is sure to incense Republicans even further, who have already angrily accused Democrats holding up efforts to move the package forward.

The vote was a procedural attempt to limit debate on a shell bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is using as a placeholder until negotiators reach a consensus deal. If it had succeeded, it would have cleared the way for the Senate to set up a final vote on a stimulus deal.

Senators have been working day and night to negotiate a possible $2 trillion economic stimulus package, hoping a deal will soon come together.

But despite marathon negotiations, lawmakers missed their own deadline of wrapping up legislation before the end of the weekend. The scale of the package — which has grown by over a trillion dollars over the course of several days — underscores the recognition of the urgency brought on by the accelerating spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has all but shuttered the American economy over the last week.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer struck an optimistic tone ahead of Monday afternoon’s procedural vote that a bipartisan deal could be reached shortly.

“We are very close to reaching a deal. Very close. And our goal is to reach a deal today and we’re hopeful, even confident, that we will meet that goal,” he said

Schumer also signaled that once a deal is reached, the Senate could move quickly to hold a final vote.

“Once we have an agreement that everyone can get behind we’re prepared to speed up the consideration of that agreement on the floor,” he said.

McConnell harshly criticized Democrats in his own remarks ahead of the vote, arguing that they are trying to push through unrelated priorities and are holding up a deal as a result.

“The markets are tanking once again because this body can’t get its act together,” he said. “This has to stop,” McConnell said, adding “The country is out of time.”

When Senate Democrats, who have argued Republicans are prioritizing corporate industry over American workers in the legislation, lined up against an earlier procedural vote to advance the bill Sunday it underscored a tense divide between Republicans and Democrats as the country grapples with the impact of coronavirus and raised fresh uncertainty over whether and when lawmakers will strike a bipartisan deal.

The far-reaching stimulus bill is poised to be the most significant legislative response to fallout from the pandemic so far. Lawmakers have already passed two other major legislative packages in response to the outbreak, and the current legislation is being referred to as “phase three” in the legislative response.

In another sign of tension between Democrats and Republicans, House Democrats are also pressing forward with plans for their own third coronavirus response legislation, an effort that only adds to the pressure on the Senate to reach a consensus deal sooner rather than later.

Sunday’s failed vote came on the same day that the first US senator — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — tested positive for coronavirus, which raised questions about how long lawmakers will continue to be able to proceed with business as usual in the Capitol building and prompted two other Republican senators — Mike Lee and Mitt Romney of Utah — to self-quarantine.

Republicans have argued that Democrats are stalling critical economic relief amid the devastating spread of coronavirus. McConnell was visibly frustrated when he spoke on the Senate floor directly after the procedural vote failed, criticizing Democrats for holding up the push to move forward with a stimulus package.

“The American people expect us to act tomorrow and I want everyone to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dicker when the country expects us to come together and address this problem,” McConnell said.

McConnell has defended his approach, telling CNN’s Dana Bash Thursday, “Republicans are in the majority in the Senate. We wanted to put forward our proposal. We feel like we have an obligation to do that as a majority and the Democrats, of course, need to be given an opportunity to react to it.”

For now, though, negotiations are continuing on the Senate measure with both sides saying they hope to pass a bill as quickly as possible.

Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said in his own remarks on the Senate floor Sunday evening, “I do believe we can close this deal,” adding, “Let’s get this done.”

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Key Vote To Advance Stimulus Fails A Second Time Over Democratic Opposition