COVID-19 relief package dies in the Senate

Whatever hope that was left for Congress to pass desperately needed COVID-19 relief legislation all but vanished Thursday as the Senate failed to pass a much smaller, $500 billion coronavirus relief measure.

The legislation, which was crafted by Senate Republicans, never had a realistic chance of passage, with the only question being whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could get the entire Republican caucus behind the bill.

In the end, 52 out of 53 Senate Republicans supported the legislation, with Sen. Rand Paul being the lone hold out. No Democrat or independent senators voted in favor of the legislation, leaving it eight votes shy of the 60 vote threshold needed for passage.

The $500 billion Republican bill was viewed by Democratic members of Congress as an insufficient offer not made in good faith. While the legislation would have provided increased federal unemployment benefits through the end of 2020, it would have only done so at $300 per week, half of what was provided under previous COVID relief legislation.

The bill would have also started another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, but much of that money would not have been new to this legislation. Of the $500 billion included in the Senate GOP’s bill, roughly $350 billion of it would be repurposed fundsfrom the previously passed CARES Act which has yet to be spent.

Back in May, House Democrats passed the HEROES Act, a $3.4 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that included nearly $1 trillion in relief to states, localities, territories and tribal governments to combat the pandemic. The bill would have also given$175 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for COVID-related health care reimbursements and testing/contact tracing, and  initiating another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to adults making less than $75,000 a year. The proposed bill would have continued to distribute the full $600 in boosted weekly unemployment benefits, among other measures.

During negotiations with the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi  and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated that they would be willing to drop the price tag of their COVID relief bill to $2.2 billion, but were insistent that they would not reduce it any further.

Earlier in the week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin intimated that the administration would be willing to support a $1.5 trillion COVID relief package, but this would have been next to impossible to push through the Senate. The $500 billion COVID relief bill that failed along party lines Thursday came about only after the first bill proposed by Senate Republican leadership, the $1 trillion HEALS Act, was unable to get the endorsement of the party’s rank and file membership.

With the federal government quickly approaching the end of the current fiscal year at the end of September and Congress scheduled to be out of session for most of October, it appears as if the window for any new COVID relief has shut, at least for the moment. When the HEROES Act passed the House on May 15, 87,000 people had already died from COVID-19. Since then, an additional 105,000 have died. Congress must act.

Please check back frequently with AIDS United’s Policy Update for all the latest information on the federal response to COVID-19, as well our standard coverage of the annual Congressional budget and appropriations processes.