The slimmed-down coronavirus stimulus relief package failed in the Senate on Thursday, with a mostly party-line vote. The $500 billion package included an extended federal unemployment insurance benefit, an additional $257 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, $105 billion for schools, and the liability protections Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly pushed for. The vote was 52 to 47, with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul joining all present Democrats in voting against it. The bill needed 60 votes to pass the chamber.
The bill was half the size of the HEALS Act McConnell introduced in July, which kicked off a round of negotiations between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. These negotiations ended up without any deal in early August, as the White House refused to agree to a $2 trillion package. House Democrats passed their bill, the $3 trillion HEROES Act, in May, but Republicans did not take it up in the Senate because of its cost.
On Wednesday, McConnell decided to hold a procedural vote on the skinny package because it was better than "doing nothing," reports CNN. "It's a vote for senators to say whether they want to move forward toward huge amounts of relief for kids, jobs, and health care, or whether they are happier doing nothing," McConnell explained. The Kentucky Republican said the issues the bill covered are "bipartisan priorities that Democrats left behind and Republicans want to take care of."
The "skinny" bill included a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit for Americans, half of the $600 per week provided in the CARES Act, and was set to expire on Dec. 27. The CARES Act's program expired at the end of July, and the HEROES Act would have extended the $600 weekly payment through January. The new package also included more funds for the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans to small businesses, and funding for schools, reports CBS News. McConnell also included liability protection, which he has argued would protect businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits. McConnell's bill would also have forgiven a $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service.
Democrats made it very clear they did not support the $500 billion package. Schumer called the bill "emaciated," criticizing it for not including funding for state and local governments, help for families evicted during the economic crisis, food assistance for children, and relief for the beleaguered travel industry. The bill also did not include another round of stimulus payments.
"The crisis and the pain of the American people in the pandemic get greater and greater, and Republicans keep thinking smaller and smaller," Schumer said on CNN Wednesday. "And the reason is very simple -- there are 20 Republicans in the Senate who want no money, so McConnell had to, in a very cynical exercise, put together something that would check the box, but left out so much."