Senate Democrats block GOP COVID-19 bill that included unemployment relief

Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a coronavirus stimulus bill that included funds for people left unemployed by the pandemic.

In a party-line vote, Democrats withheld the 60 votes needed to consider the bill, continuing months-long gridlock ahead of Election Day. Republican leaders said the bill included widely supported bipartisan ideas, but Democrats argued it didn’t do enough.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), said it was “a rather pointless vote on the latest highly partisan Republican emaciated COVID relief bill.”

But Republican Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) argued, “some money is better than no money.”

The bill proposed a $300 weekly unemployment subsidy, $105 billion for schools, $20 billion for farmers, $10 billion for the US Postal Service and $10 billion for childcare assistance.

It included $47 billion for vaccines and testing and $258 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which gives small businesses forgivable loans for retaining staff who aren’t needed due to reduced demand.

The rejected bill also would have given businesses liability protection except in cases of gross negligence and misconduct. Schumer called the liability protection a “poison pill.”

The bill did not include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to most Americans, which both sides and President Trump support.

The failure of the bill creates new turbulence for the unemployed. Democrats want to renew a $600 weekly supplement that expired in July. Trump in August signed an executive order allowing a $400 weekly boost if states chip in $100, but those funds are almost exhausted.

The jobless rate fell to 8.4 percent in August, down from 10.2 percent in July.

Other Trump executive orders issued last month restored a federal ban on evictions, proposed a temporary payroll tax cut and extended deferral of college loan payments.

Republicans strongly oppose Democrats’ proposal to send nearly $1 trillion in aid to state and local governments. House Democrats in May passed a $3 trillion relief bill that contained state aid, as well as funds for renters and hazard pay for health workers.

Thune voiced growing reluctance among fiscal conservatives, pointing out the US national debt ballooned this year because of other relief bills. He said “if we grow our debt enough, what happened to the Greek economy could happen here.”

Republicans introduced a $1 trillion relief proposal in July. The “skinny” bill that failed cost about half as much. Democrats last month said they would be willing to pass a bill costing about $2 trillion, or $1 billion less than their original proposal.

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