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Slimmed Down COVID-19 Bill Fails in Senate as Hopes Dim for Additional Relief Before Election Day

  • Senate Republicans unify around slimmed down COVID-19 relief bill, but the measure fails as Democrats denounce it as inadequate
  • $300 billion proposal included additional funding for Paycheck Protection Program as well as $300 a week in additional unemployment benefits
  • Vote raises worries that additional relief measures before Election Day are unlikely, though negotiations continue and several incumbents are under pressure to deliver results

Senate Republicans largely unified around a slimmed down COVID-19 relief measure on Thursday, though the 52-47 vote fell short of the 60 votes necessary for passage. The $300 billion act included additional Paycheck Protection Program funding targeted at small businesses, a $300 a week supplement in unemployment benefits, and funds for the United States Post Office and schools.

The price tag on the legislation fell even lower than an initial forecast of $500 billion to $700 billion. The proposed relief was also far below a $3.4 billion measure advanced by House Democrats and a $1 trillion bill previously raised by Senate Republicans.

Republican leaders acknowledged that the slimmed down bill was unlikely to pass, but that it offered a way to demonstrate Republican unity and put pressure on Democrats. Democratic leaders, in turn, criticized the bill as insufficient and said it was a partisan exercise rather than a serious attempt to provide relief to the American people.

Although the $3 trillion CARES Act providing COVID-19 relief won widespread bipartisan support earlier this year, Democrats and Republicans have been at a stalemate on offering additional relief to unemployed Americans and struggling businesses. The parties have disagreed over whether certain features, such as liability protections and funding for state and local governments, should be included.

There has also been no consensus on the size of the new relief package, though ongoing talks have narrowed the gap between proposals. Democrats favor funding in the neighborhood of $2 trillion, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has signaled that the White House would approve a top line of $1.5 trillion.

Congress failed to reach a consensus on a new round of COVID-19 relief this summer as CARES Act provisions expired. The latest vote has raised concerns that more relief is unlikely to be approved until after the contentious 2020 election . However, vulnerable members in both parties have faced increased pressure to deliver a new relief bill in a shorter timeframe, and leaders on both sides of the aisle say they are open to continued negotiations while also hoping to win concessions.

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