Senate Fails Again on Coronavirus Relief Bill

Senate Fails Again on Coronavirus Relief Bill

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Plus: Joe Biden slams Trump's coronavirus response
Monday, March 23, 2020

Welcome to another week of our new reality. Here's the latest:

  • The Senate failed for a second time to advance a massive coronavirus relief package, as Democrats continue to object to details of the legislation and the unresolved partisan differences led to growing frustration on Capitol Hill.
  • As negotiations stalled in the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would unveil their own relief package focused more on direct payments and other assistance for workers and families as well as measures to reduce student debt burdens and expand food programs. The House package reportedly would cost a tentative $2.5 trillion, larger than the Senate plan, which itself is far larger than the stimulus passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
  • The Federal Reserve signaled it would do whatever it takes to help the economy and financial markets. In a surprise announcement of unprecedented measures, the central bank said it would buy Treasury and mortgage-backed securities “in the amounts needed to support smooth market functioning and effective transmission of monetary policy to broader financial conditions and the economy." And it set up lending programs for businesses as well as state and local governments.
  • President Trump is reportedly considering easing some of the restrictions intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus, in the hope of restarting the economy sooner rather than later. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump tweeted Sunday. According to The Washington Post, economists Stephen Moore and Art Laffer, along with other conservative figures in the media and on Wall Street, are pushing for a less restrictive approach. “[Trump] is worried about the impact of soaring unemployment numbers and severe economic contraction on his 2020 reelection bid, and fielded phone calls for much of the weekend from alarmed business leaders,” the Post says. “He remains fixated on the plummeting stock market, is chafing at the idea of the country remaining closed until the summer and growing tired of talking only about the coronavirus, one person said.”
  • As of 5:20 p.m. ET, there were 41,708 confirmed Covid-19 cases in the U.S. and 573 deaths. For the first time in the crisis, the U.S. reported more than 100 deaths in a single day.

Senate Fails Again on Coronavirus Stimulus Bill

They still don’t have a deal.

For the second time in two days, Senate Democrats on Monday blocked a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, as a four-day-long scramble to finalize the legislation remained stalled by partisan differences and angry recriminations.

The Washington Post reports that “near-pandemonium erupted on the Senate floor with lawmakers venting fury about their failed efforts to address the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy.”

The vote Monday was 49-46, with Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama the only Democrat to support advancing the legislation.

What Republicans are saying: GOP senators said the situation calls for fast action and accused their Democratic counterparts of putting their political agenda ahead of the dire needs of the American public. "The country is burning, and your side wants to play political games," Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi specifically – of derailing progress toward a compromise by making late demands, including tax credits for solar and wind energy and emissions standards for airlines. "The speaker of the House flew back from San Francisco, and suddenly, the Senate's serious bipartisan process turned into this left-wing episode of 'Supermarket Sweep,' unrelated issues left and right," he said.

What Democrats are saying: Democrats continue to argue that the stimulus package disproportionately benefits corporations over workers and health care providers, and that a lack of restrictions and oversight for a $500 billion fund designed to help businesses hit by the pandemic make it a “slush fund” that could be exploited by companies and their executives. They also object to language that would allow the Treasury secretary to withhold names of companies getting federal money for six months and to waive a restriction on companies that take taxpayer money from buying back their own stock.

Democrats are also pushing for an expansion of unemployment insurance to last four months instead of three and are looking to get hundreds of billions of dollars for hospitals and states, according to Politico. And they say that Republicans have included some political provisions of their own, including extending an abstinence education program.

The bottom line: Despite the failed vote, Senate Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is representing the Trump administration in the ongoing talks, insisted that the sides were making progress and getting close to a deal. But McConnell reportedly warned that, given the delays, a final vote might not happen until Friday or Saturday.

Read more at The Washington Post or Politico.

Quote of the Day

“You know what the American people are thinking right now? They’re thinking that the brain is an amazing organ. It starts working in a mother’s womb and it doesn’t stop working ‘til you get elected to Congress.”

– Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-LA), on the Senate’s failure to pass a stimulus package

Some States Reopen Obamacare Markets

As the Affordable Care Act reaches its 10th anniversary of being signed into law, at least eight states are reopening their Obamacare health insurance marketplaces in response to the coronavirus pandemic. On Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the federal government may do the same by allowing for a special enrollment period in the 32 states where it operates the health care marketplaces.

The exchanges overseen by the Trump administration closed on December 15. Ordinarily, new enrollees have to wait until the next enrollment period in the fall to sign up for coverage, but CMS said it was weighing the need to reopen the exchanges as millions of Americans face job — and health insurance — loss at a time when access to testing and treatment is more important than ever.

The eight states already allowing new enrollments — Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island and Washington — run their own health exchanges, according to Kaiser Health News, giving them more flexibility to set their own rules. A ninth state, California, has not closed its exchange this year and will allow people to sign up for health coverage through June. Those who sign up for new plans should have coverage by April 1.

More than 28 million Americans are currently uninsured, and that number could grow rapidly as layoffs mount in the coming weeks. The Trump administration is currently backing a lawsuit that would overturn the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, potentially removing coverage from about 20 million people.

Biden Slams Trump’s Coronavirus Response

Where’s Joe Biden? The Democratic presidential frontrunner has faced questions over his lack of visibility in recent days as the coronavirus crisis has grown. On Monday, in what was reportedly his first public appearance in six days, the former vice president slammed President Trump’s response to the pandemic and the stimulus bill that failed in a Senate vote Sunday.

“My point is not simply that the president was wrong,” Biden said in the speech from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. “My point is that the mindset that was slow to recognize the problem in the first place and to treat it with the seriousness it deserves, is still too much a part of how the president is addressing the problem.”

The substance: Biden focused on what he called four key points of action needed now. He called for:

1. Steps to increase the capacity of the health care system. “I’m glad the president has finally activated the National Guard,” he said. “Now we need the Armed Forces and the National Guard to help with hospital capacity, supplies, and logistics. We need to activate a reserve corps of doctors and nurses and beef up the number of responders dealing with this crush of cases.”

2. Trump to use the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of goods needed to treat patients.

3. Trump to end the infighting in his administration and provide clear guidance to the public based on recommendations from scientists.

4. An economic response that would protect workers and taxpayers. “We should be doing everything in our power to keep workers on payrolls, make small businesses healthy, help the economy come out on the other side strong,” Biden said. “The federal government should provide the resources to make that happen, while still protecting the American taxpayers. We can do both.”

Stumbling over his words at times during his speech, Biden joined Senate Democrats in criticizing the $1.8 trillion stimulus plan that failed to advance in a Senate vote Sunday, saying it included a $500 billion “slush fund” for corporations with almost no conditions. “A no-strings corporate bailout makes no sense,” he said, adding that the bill should include an enforceable requirement that corporations taking taxpayer money keep workers on their payrolls.

Biden said he had also sent a letter urging Republicans to withdraw their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act so as to eliminate the uncertainty it creates for some Americans’ health care coverage.

Watch Biden’s speech here.


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