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Stimulus package for virus fails to hurdle Democratic objections

Senate Democrats on Monday again blocked a massive stimulus package responding to the coronavirus outbreak, though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held out hope for a deal by the end of the day.

The stimulus plan’s final price tag is not yet clear but is reportedly nearing $2 trillion as negotiations continue between the White House and Senate Democrats. Stalling progress, however, Democrats objecting to several key components prevented the package from clearing a procedural hurdle over the weekend.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had lined up a Monday afternoon procedural vote on the package,  but the 49-46 divide fell short of the 60-vote threshold required under the Senate’s rules.

At the core of the legislation is a program delivering $1,200 checks to most U.S. adults and $500 to most children, as well as a $350 billion loan program for small businesses to maintain payroll during the economic downturn caused by the outbreak of Covid-19, a novel virus strain that has killed nearly 15,000 globally in a few short months. The bill also includes $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees to certain industries, states and local governments.

That last provision has been a key sticking point in negotiations, as Democrats have called it a “slush fund” without enough conditions placed on the recipient businesses or enough congressional oversight on how the money is spent.

“Maybe the majority leader thinks it’s unfair to ask [for] protections for workers and labor to companies that are getting hundreds of billions of dollars,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Monday. “We think it’s very fair to ask for those. Those are not extraneous issues. That is a wish list for workers, nobody else.”

Schumer said talks between the White House and Senate Democrats are ongoing, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — who has taken a lead in working out coronavirus-response bills with Democrats — leaving the minority leader’s office after midnight and returning for more negotiations Monday at 9 a.m. Schumer said he is hopeful those talks will yield agreement by the end of the day.

McConnell has accused Democrats of trying to cram the legislation with unrelated policy priorities in a “left-wing episode of Supermarket Sweep.” In a fiery floor speech Monday, the Kentucky Republican said Democrats are for purely partisan reasons holding up legislation that is critical amid a historic economic downturn.

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“Today, the markets are tanking once again, as I said, because this body can’t get its act together and the only reason it can’t get its act together is right over here on the other side of the aisle,” McConnell said.

A similarly frustrated Senator Susan Collins, who helped craft the small business portion of the legislation, implored Senate Democrats to quickly get behind the bill, saying many small businesses will not be able to last much longer with widespread closures and economic disruptions due to the outbreak.

“We don’t have another day,” Collins said. “We don’t have another hour. We don’t have another minute to delay acting.”

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