Senate Democrats filibustered the GOP’s $500 billion coronavirus relief bill Thursday, a preordained outcome that nonetheless gave the chamber’s endangered Republicans the chance to vote for additional virus money before November’s elections.
The 52-47 vote saw all but one Republican back the bill, but still fell eight votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome the filibuster, highlighting the gridlock that’s snared all attempts to approve a fifth round of relief and dimming hopes of a deal before the election.
Democrats called the GOP ante paltry and filled with objectionable policies, such as liability protections for businesses looking to reopen amid the pandemic. They want a package totaling at least $2 trillion, with about half of that going to bail out states and localities.
Republicans say that’s exorbitant, and say their bill checked off the areas all sides agree on: extending unemployment benefits and aid to small businesses.
“Today every senator will either say they want to send families the relief we can agree to, or they want to send families nothing,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said ahead of the vote.
The bill wasn’t expected to pass, but Mr. McConnell wanted to give Republicans an opportunity to present a united front and boost their records in a tough election cycle, where more than a half-dozen GOP senators are seen as endangered. Only two Democrats are deemed to be in tough races.
“We have a lot of exposure. This is the big, big class that took the majority back in 2014,” Mr. McConnell said on Fox News. “We knew this was going to be a struggle. I think it’s a 50-50 proposition. The outcome of the Senate could go either way.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, who is on the endangered list, celebrated the bill Thursday despite the filibuster, touting it’s provisions on child care, small business loans, and aid to farmers.
“Earlier this year Congress came together, worked across the aisle, and provided relief during this pandemic, and it’s shameful Democrats couldn’t help us do it again,” the Iowa Republican said in a statement.
A previous Senate Republican bill stumbled in July, with divisions over the $1 billion price tag. Leaders won broader GOP support this time by including school choice money, such as education tax credits, to win over conservatives.
The sole Republican defector Thursday was Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who opposes adding any more to the national debt. Congress has spent nearly $3 trillion on the pandemic so far.
Sen. Josh Hawley, who was on the fence about whether he’d support the bill, said ultimately it came down to getting something on the floor.
“I do think we ought to be focused more on working families and getting people back to work. I wish it had that focus,” the Missouri Republican said. “But it’s become increasingly clear to me that the alternative is nothing.”
The bill would have provided more than $250 billion for another round of small business loans, $105 billion for schools, and $16 billion for testing and contact tracing resources.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, announced opposition even before the bill was released, arguing Republicans had left far too much aid on the cutting room floor and were only trying to “check the box” with a shallow vote to bolster their vulnerable members.
On Thursday, Mrs. Pelosi accused Republicans of trying to help President Trump sweep aside concern about the pandemic, after revelations that he was aware of the dangers of coronavirus, even as he publicly downplayed them.
“President Trump’s Republican enablers in the Congress want to help him ‘play it down’ instead of getting families the scale of help that they really need,” she said. “Instead of wasting more time trying to do as little as possible while Americans are losing their lives and livelihoods, Republicans need to get serious and join Democrats to pass a bill that is equal to the health and economic crisis gripping our country.”
Republicans, though, said it’s Democrats who may pay a price for opposing a bill with money for unemployment benefits and business payroll.
Notably, Sen. Doug Jones, who is facing a tough reelection fight in Alabama, stuck with his party to vote against the bill.
He blamed Mr. McConnell for not trying to find a compromise, and said his vote was not about his reelection.
“I don’t take votes with politics in mind,” he said.
With the GOP’s bill failing, lawmakers across the board are left with little other prospects to get any sort of coronavirus aid done before Election Day.
Mrs. Pelosi and White House negotiators have shifted their focus to getting a stopgap government spending bill through Congress before the end of the month, which the speaker confirmed will not include any COVID-19 relief.
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