Democrats have for the second straight day stopped an almost $2tn economic stimulus package from advancing in the Senate, insisting the legislation include more stringent limits on how big US business uses the coronavirus rescue funds included in the plan.
The move by Senate Democrats, which came in a procedural vote, came despite mounting concerns on Wall Street that Congress was moving too slowly to prop up companies that are now shedding employees by the hundreds of thousands.
The benchmark S&P 500 was off more than 3 per cent in afternoon trading despite the most dramatic intervention in the markets yet by the Federal Reserve, with investors waiting nervously for a deal to come from Capitol Hill.
Negotiations between Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, and Chuck Schumer, his Democratic counterpart, were continuing with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary. Mr Schumer and Mr Mnuchin still insist a deal is “very close”.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of the Representatives, has also been involved in talks. On Monday afternoon she set out a separate stimulus proposal, drafted by House Democrats.
the number of Republicans in the US Senate that are in self-quarantine
Mr McConnell was showing mounting frustration, lashing out at Democrats on the Senate floor just before the vote. Mr McConnell claimed Democrats were pushing a “wish list” of progressive policies — including tax credits for solar and wind energy and new emissions standards for airlines — that had “nothing whatsoever” to do with the spread of the coronavirus and resulting economic fallout.
“Are you kidding me?” Mr McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That is what they are up to over there, and the American people need to know it. Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal.”
Democrats, on the other hand, were arguing Mr McConnell was repeating the errors of the bailout package passed during the 2008 financial crisis by giving billions of dollars to companies unchecked while ignoring average Americans.
“We have bailouts and handouts for corporations — but workers are told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to take personal responsibility,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio. “The American people will not stand for it. Not again. Especially not this time. We should be coming together to fight a pandemic, and to support workers who are getting hurt.”
The procedural vote to cut off debate on the stimulus package failed in a 49-46 vote on Monday afternoon, 11 votes short of the 60 required for a Republican plan to move ahead. Five Republican senators in self-quarantine did not vote.
The Republican-controlled Senate held a similar procedural vote on Sunday, but just 47 senators voted in favour of the measure. Mr McConnell will need the support of at least a handful of Democrats if he is to pass the legislation.
Democrats have argued the Republicans’ proposals are too generous to big businesses and do not include enough limitations on large corporations in line to receive taxpayer-backed bailouts.
Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts and former US presidential candidate, has been among the most vocal lawmakers calling for increased oversight of companies that receive government aid.
At the weekend, she said the Republican-drafted bill “creates a slush fund for the big guys and no help for workers and no help for hospitals, and I don’t see how the Democrats can possibly support that”.
The Senate remains in session, even after Rand Paul, the Republican senator from Kentucky, became the first senator to test positive for Covid-19 at the weekend. Mr Paul reportedly used the Senate gym and other facilities, even after being tested for the coronavirus, raising concerns about exposure for other lawmakers, including Utah Republicans Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, who are now in self-quarantine.
Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic senator from Minnesota and former presidential candidate, said on Monday morning that her husband, John Bessler, was receiving oxygen in a hospital in Virginia after coughing up blood and testing positive for the virus. Ms Klobuchar is continuing to work in the Senate because she has not been in contact with her husband in the past two weeks.