Senate Democrats blocked Republican efforts to push through an extra $250bn in loans for small businesses on Thursday, setting the stage for fresh negotiations between Congress and the White House over additional relief for companies and taxpayers suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.
With just a handful of lawmakers on the Senate floor on Thursday morning, Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, tried to pass the GOP proposals — which would top up the existing $350bn Paycheck Protection Program that was part of the more than $2tn economic stimulus package signed into law last month — by unanimous consent, which allows for speedy approval so long as no senator objects.
But Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic senators from Maryland, opposed the move, accusing Mr McConnell of a “political stunt”.
Mr Cardin and Mr Van Hollen countered with a Democratic proposal to set restrictions on the extra $250bn for small businesses, in addition to allocating an extra $100bn for hospitals to buy personal protective equipment and expand testing capacity; $150bn more for state and local governments to fight the outbreak while dealing with a decline in revenue; and a 15 per cent increase in food stamp benefits for low-income Americans.
Mr McConnell objected to the Democrats’ plans, saying: “To my Democratic colleagues, please do not block emergency aid you do not even oppose just because you want something more.”
The Senate adjourned without reaching a deal and will be back in session on Monday. Most lawmakers are in their congressional districts, however, rather than Washington, amid public health concerns about coronavirus.
Republicans slammed Democrats for opposing Mr McConnell’s proposals.
Tim Murtaugh, communications director for US president Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, said Democrats were “playing despicable politics by delaying a new round of support for workers”.
“This is further proof that Democrats care more about scoring points than they do about helping Americans in need,” he added.
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Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, said it was a matter of “days, not weeks, until the PPP runs out of money”.
Another 6.6m Americans filed first-time unemployment claims in the week ending April 4, according to official figures published on Thursday, taking the cumulative total of unemployment claims since Americans began practising social distancing and observing “stay at home” orders to almost 17m.
“Today’s unemployment numbers remind us that now is not the time for congressional horse-trading or partisan politics,” said Mr Rubio, who is chairman of the Senate’s small business committee. “I really hope my Democratic colleagues will reconsider their decision to block more money for PPP.”