McConnell promises U.S. Senate vote on stripped-down COVID relief package

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Republican-led U.S. Senate would vote on a scaled-down coronavirus economic relief bill that Democrats have rejected as they hold out for trillions more as Election Day approaches.

With negotiations on a broader package stalled, Republicans and Democrats faced pressure to take action on helping Americans weather a pandemic that has killed more than 214,000 people and damaged the U.S. economy.

However, the two sides appear to remain far apart and a bipartisan deal on coronavirus relief remains unlikely before Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections.

President Donald Trump, a Republican who called off coronavirus relief talks last week only to restart them days later, pushed lawmakers again on Tuesday to “Go big or go home!!!”

Yet McConnell said the full Senate’s first order of business when it returns on Monday would be to vote on a $500 billion relief bill tapping unused Paycheck Protection Program funds.

He said the bill would include help for schools and liability protections for businesses, which Republicans sought. McConnell also said there would be more unemployment benefits in the bill, but did not give specifics.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, on Sunday rejected the stripped-down measure to use leftover funds from the expired small-business loan program.

They also rejected an earlier White House offer for a $1.8 trillion coronavirus relief package that moved closer to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion proposal.

Pelosi on Tuesday laid out what Democrats view as the shortcomings of the $1.8 trillion White House proposal, which also met resistance from Republicans in the U.S. Senate who say it is too large.

“Tragically, the Trump proposal falls significantly short of what this pandemic and deep recession demand,” Pelosi said in a letter to lawmakers. She described the offer made last week by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as “one step forward, two steps back.”

Mnuchin’s office did not immediately comment.

But Pelosi said she remained hopeful for a deal and appeared to leave the door open to additional talks. “Significant changes must be made to remedy the Trump proposal’s deficiencies. Updates will continue.”

The letter made it clear that Democrats view the White House offer as deficient on state and local government aid, COVID-19 testing and tracing, rental assistance, worker safety, child care, relief for small employers and other areas.

Pelosi took a sharp swipe at Trump, who called off talks in a tweet last week while recovering from his own bout with COVID-19.

“Following his tweet, the stock market went down and so did he in the polls,” Pelosi said. “The president only wants his name on a check to go out before Election Day and for the market to go up.”

Trump, who trails Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in many opinion polls, returned to the campaign trail this week.

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