Democratic leaders scoff at emerging GOP coronavirus aid plan, promise it won't pass

"It appears the Republican legislative response to COVID is un-unified, unserious, unsatisfactory," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hold a press conference on Capitol Hill on July 23, 2020.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images

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By Sahil Kapur and Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders panned the emerging Republican package for coronavirus relief Thursday, calling it an "unserious" proposal that won't pass Congress.

"What we have seen so far falls very short of the challenge that we face in order to defeat the virus and in order to open our schools and open our economy," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "We have to act. And what they're proposing falls far short."

Senate Republicans reached a tentative agreement with the White House on Wednesday for a proposal expected to cost $1 trillion, which would include $105 billion for schools, $16 billion for testing and a new round of direct payments to individuals. Millions of Americans' unemployment benefits will decrease if Congress can't find a way to extend the boosted payments by the end of the week.

President Donald Trump appeared to concede Thursday that he won't get one of his top priorities, a reduction in the payroll tax, which lacked the needed support even in his own party. He took to Twitter to criticize Democrats and his own party for not including the tax reduction.

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Senate leaders had previously said their proposal is a starting point for talks with Democrats. There have been few bipartisan talks so far.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the Republican plan "a partisan bill that will never become law just so they can muster up the courage to negotiate."

"It appears the Republican legislative response to COVID is un-unified, unserious, unsatisfactory. The Republican disarray and dithering has seriously, potentially deadly consequences for tens of millions of Americans," said Schumer, whose party has filibuster power to block legislation in the Senate.

The Republican legislation hasn't been made public. Republican leaders are still working to resolve party divisions that have prevented coming up with a position to begin negotiations with Democrats. Coronavirus cases in the U.S. have topped 4 million, according to the latest NBC News count.

The Democratic-led House passed a broader $3.4 trillion bill to address the pandemic in May.

Schumer slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for insisting on liability protections for businesses, as well as hospitals, schools and other entities, as they reopen.

"Seriously? Leader McConnell has made corporate immunity the centerpiece of the Republican response?" Schumer said. "Once again the Republican Senate is far more comfortable providing relief to big corporations than relief to workers and families."

Schumer said the next package must address unemployment benefits, food assistance, rental assistance, hazard pay for essential workers, support for hard-hit communities and a secure election this fall.

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Republican negotiators have signaled that they would address the pandemic through a variety of legislative measures, which both Democratic leaders rejected as a series of "disjointed proposals."

"We cannot piecemeal this," Pelosi said.

Schumer added, "We have to address it as a totality."

Both were adamant about extending the $600-a-week benefit for unemployment insurance, which runs dry this week.

"Our unemployment provision has kept millions out of poverty, millions," Schumer said.