WASHINGTON — Partisan tensions erupted on Monday afternoon as the Senate failed for a second time to advance a massive stimulus package to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, with lawmakers accusing the other party of holding up negotiations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., excoriated Democrats ahead of the vote, saying, "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."
Democrats and Republicans had negotiated "furiously," McConnell said, to make progress on the bill, but the legislation now includes a number of changes requested by Democrats.
"Tax credits for solar energy and wind energy. Provisions to force employers to give special new treatment to Big Labor. And listen to this — new emissions standards for the airlines. Are you kidding me?" McConnell said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., offered a more optimistic impression on the status of the talks, saying: "We're very close to reaching a deal — very close. And our goal is to reach a deal today."
Schumer dismissed McConnell's criticisms and said asking for protections for workers and labor "are not extraneous issues" but instead "a wish list for workers, nobody else."
Democrats and Republicans in Congress remained deadlocked Monday morning over the package, with Democrats arguing that the current version wouldn't protect workers enough and would be too lax on corporate bailout rules. Ahead of Monday's vote, members from both parties traded barbs over what needed to be done.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said: "We are in the midst of a crisis in our country, a crisis caused by the coronavirus. I cannot believe that the answer to this crisis as we move to address the economic consequences that are so severe for the people of this country — that the answer from our friends on the other side of the aisle is delay, delay, delay. No sense of urgency, no hurry."
Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said: "This is a policy disagreement, and I have an obligation as a representative of my state to stand up and say when I don't think a $2 trillion bill is going to fix the problem. It may make a lot of people rich, but it doesn't have the resources in it today to take care of the most vulnerable in this country, and it's not going to do the primary job at hand, which is to stop the virus."
To try to break the stalemate, Schumer had been meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday morning to discuss a path forward. They negotiated late into the night Sunday, with two phone calls around midnight.
In morning TV interviews ahead of the meeting, Mnuchin emphasized that the Senate needs to pass something by Monday. Responding to Democratic criticism that the proposal includes a "slush fund," he said on Fox Business Network that the legislation being considered is not a slush fund but rather a "mechanism" that the Treasury Department can use along with the Federal Reserve to provide another $4 trillion to the economy.
Bipartisan talks over the GOP-sponsored legislation collapsed Sunday because of those sticking points.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., unveiled a Democratic version of the bill in the House on Monday afternoon to pressure Republicans and give her members a chance to make a statement about what they want in the third stimulus measure.
"The Senate Republican bill put corporations first, but because of the insistence of Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats, progress has been made," Pelosi told reporters. She said the House bill "takes responsibility for the health, wages and well-being of America's workers."
"Democrats take responsibility for our workers [and] require that any corporation that takes taxpayer dollars must protect their workers, wages and benefits, not CEO pay, stock buybacks or layoffs," she said.
Further complicating matters and adding to the need to pass legislation immediately is that a number of House members and senators are self-quarantined because they have either tested positive or have had contact with someone who has tested positive and won't make it to Capitol Hill for a vote.
Two House members — Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., and Ben McAdams, D-Utah — have tested positive for the disease, and other House members have self-quarantined as a precaution.
In the Senate, Rand Paul, R-Ky., has tested positive, and as a result, a handful of his colleagues have decided to self-quarantine for two weeks, as well.
Neither the House nor the Senate allows remote voting, but pressure is building for that to change because of the circumstances.