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Senate Rejects Smaller COVID-19 Relief Package Amid More Optimistic Signals on Negotiated Agreement

  • $500 billion COVID-19 relief package fails in the Senate, one day after a standalone bill for Paycheck Protection Program funding is rejected
  • Action signals support among Senate Republicans for smaller relief bills, raising uncertainties that a negotiated compromise will pass the chamber
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows both say they are hopeful that a compromise bill can be crafted by the end of the week

A COVID-19 relief bill with a narrow scope failed to pass the Senate on Wednesday, echoing the rejection of a similar bill last month. However, the action signaled that Senate Republicans have largely unified in favor of smaller economic stimulus, raising uncertainties over whether a larger compromise bill can pass the chamber even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said they are hopeful to have a proposal ready by the end of the week.

The Senate voted 51-44 in favor of the $500 billion package, falling short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed. The bill included funding for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans to small businesses, enhanced unemployment benefits, more than $100 billion for schools, and money for COVID-19 testing, research, and vaccine distribution.

The vote comes one day after another Republican-led effort to approve standalone PPP funding. This measure also failed to gain enough votes to pass, though five Democrats – four of whom are facing election this year – supported it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of failing to act on relief measures they have indicated they support. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in turn, criticized the measure as both a political stunt and insufficient to provide assistance to Americans.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a compromise package, said she expects there will be a vote on a compromise bill either before the Nov. 3 election or shortly after. President Donald Trump has indicated that he is in support of higher levels of stimulus spending, and the final bill is anticipated to fall somewhere between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion.

Given the previous support among Senate Republicans for smaller relief measures, a bill with this price tag would face an uphill battle to secure the votes necessary for approval. McConnell has said any stimulus bill passed in the House with presidential support would get a vote in the Senate, though he did not indicate when such a vote would take place. The Majority Leader has also reportedly asked the White House not to agree to any compromise reached by Pelosi and Mnuchin, both to avoid putting Republican senators at odds with the President and to avoid disrupting the accelerated timetable on confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

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