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The Senate floor devolved into near-screaming matches on Monday as lawmakers expressed fury about their failed efforts to reach an agreement on a $2 trillion spending bill to address the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy.
McConnell accused Democrats of trying to add extraneous provisions sought by special interests and organized labor; Democrats complained that the legislation was tilted too far toward helping corporations and didn’t do enough for health care workers or people who had lost their jobs.
The fiery developments reflected what was at stake as well as rising tensions in the Senate over the nation’s predicament and what’s happening in the Senate itself, where Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Sunday he has covid-19 and four other GOP senators are quarantined. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) disclosed Monday that her husband, too, is infected with the virus.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) advised everyone to “assume the appropriate distance and take a deep breath” and also said the Senate needed to figure out how to vote remotely, something McConnell has opposed. “We should not be physically present on this floor at this moment,” Durbin said.
Monday’s talks got underway the morning after Senate Democrats voted to block the bill from advancing, infuriating Republicans. Democrats have alleged the bill does too much to help prop up businesses without directing enough money to households, hospitals and health professionals. White House officials have acknowledged the unprecedented assistance the legislation would steer toward corporations, but they have said this money would help protect millions of jobs.
The legislation aims to flood the economy with money, from individuals to small businesses to large industries amid a wave of layoffs and a sharp contraction in consumer spending. It would direct $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children. It would also create a $500 billion lending program for businesses, cities and states and another $350 billion to help small businesses meet payroll costs.
Senators have been trying unsuccessfully to reach a deal since McConnell released the sweeping legislation Thursday night. One deadline after another has been missed. Democrats have complained the bill assembled by Senate Republicans gives too many benefits to corporations with little oversight of how the money is spent.
Trump on Sunday seemed to acknowledge Democrats’ concerns, while insisting he did not want to offer bailouts: “I don’t want to give a bailout to a company and then have somebody go out and use that money to buy back stock in the company and raise the price and then get a bonus,” Trump said Sunday at the White House. “So I may be Republican, but I don’t like that. I want them to use the money for the workers.”
Democrats have argued that without protections for workers, companies receiving bailout money could fire their employees and pocket the taxpayer assistance, which would undermine the purpose of the federal aid. Republicans have said the program needs to be up and running immediately to help the economy before it is too late.
The partisan friction on Capitol Hill partly results from lingering resentments among Senate Republicans over the last coronavirus relief bill, a $100-billion-plus package enacted last week and negotiated between Pelosi and Mnuchin. Many Senate Republicans were unhappy with paid sick leave provisions in that bill but voted for it anyway.