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Bullet policy · Sep 14, 2020

Relief Negotiations Stall After "Skinny" GOP Proposal Fails in Senate

A pared-down COVID-19 relief package introduced by Senate Republicans failed to move forward in the Senate after failing to capture the 60 votes needed to close debate. The chamber voted 52-47 - along party lines.

The “skinny” proposal was introduced on September 8, after relief negotiations between Democratic leadership and the Trump Administration have been stalled for weeks as a result of disagreement over the size of the package. Republicans in the Senate had introduced a $1 trillion package, entitled the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools Act (HEALS Act) in late July. The House passed a broader $3 trillion measure - the Heroes Act - in May. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was pushing for the White House to increase its offer for the package from $1 trillion to $2.2 trillion.

The latest relief proposal from Senate Republicans, estimated to cost $500 billion - about half of the HEALS Act - included additional funds for the Paycheck Protection Program; funds for schools and testing; liability protections for schools and businesses; and $300 in increased weekly federal unemployment benefits through December 27, 2020.

The bill included provisions that the Democrats did not support, including liability protections for businesses. “The cynical Republican bill was emaciated, inadequate, and designed to fail. Americans need help now, and Congress needs to respond in a way that meets the nation’s very real and urgent needs,” stated Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and urged Republicans “to come to the table, meet us halfway, and negotiate in good faith on a bipartisan comprehensive bill that will benefit the entire country.”

According to E&E News, a number of Senators do not expect a deal to be reached before the November election, although some lawmakers are still hopeful. Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) said the relief push “looks” dead, but added that the situation could change. “You never know around here, sometimes things look bleak and they revive, and so forth,” said Shelby. “But we thought the scaled-down version was a good bill, a good timing and everything else. The Democrats obviously thought otherwise.” The Senate is scheduled to be in session the first week of October before going into recess until after the elections.

Although relief negotiations have reached an impasse, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hope to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open in the new fiscal year starting October 1. Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have come to a tentative agreement to pursue a clean stopgap spending bill - free of controversial policy riders - to avoid a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed support for a continuing resolution lasting until December, but Democratic lawmakers have yet to weigh in on the duration of the measure.