McConnell plans vote on targeted coronavirus relief as Trump urges Congress to 'go big'

Bill would include money for schools, liability protections for businesses and boosted unemployment benefits

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the Senate will vote on a "targeted" coronavirus relief bill next week, including another round of funding for a key small-business rescue program.

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McConnell adjourned the full Senate until Oct. 19 after President Trump and three GOP senators tested positive for the coronavirus (the Judiciary Committee is still holding a four-day long confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett).

“When the full Senate returns on October 19th, our first order of business will be voting again on targeted relief for American workers, including new funding for the PPP," McConnell said in a statement, referring to the Paycheck Protection Program. During an event in Kentucky, McConnell said the bill would also include money for schools, liability protections for businesses and boosted unemployment benefits.

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The Republican leader said Congress would have enough time to pass the bill and confirm Barrett to the Supreme Court unless "Democrats block this aid for workers." Democrats previously rejected a $500 billion "skinny" proposal put forward by Republicans over the summer, and have pushed back against "piecemeal" legislation.

For months, Congress has struggled to reach an agreement on additional stimulus. Negotiations first collapsed in early August, prompting Trump to sign four executive measures intended to provide relief to families still reeling from the virus-induced crisis, including temporarily extending supplemental jobless aid at $300 a week.

But that aid is beginning to expire, and lifelines that propped up the economy in the early weeks of the pandemic — like the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, a one-time $1,200 stimulus check and sweetened unemployment benefits — lapsed weeks ago.

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Although Democrats and Republicans broadly agree that another bill is necessary to aid the economy's recovery, they sharply disagree over the size and scope of it. The White House and Republicans also appear at odds over how much stimulus is needed.

Both parties rejected a $1.8 trillion offer from the White House on Friday; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi panned it as "one step forward, two steps back," arguing that Trump "only wants his name on a check to go out before Election Day and for the [stock] market to go up."

The proposal from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Trump administration's top negotiator, included $300 billion in aid for state and local governments; direct payments of up to $1,200 for adults and $1,000 per child; and $400 per week in federal unemployment aid, according to The Washington Post.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues, Pelosi cited aid for state and local governments; funding for COVID-19 testing and tracing; and a lack of rental assistance and eviction preventions as key sticking points in negotiations. The letter included statements from House committee chairs criticizing what they called inadequacies in the White House's proposal.

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"Tragically, the Trump proposal falls significantly short of what this pandemic and deep recession demand," she wrote.

At the same time, several Senate Republicans warned there was "no appetite" for a massive spending bill before the November election.

McConnell's comments came as Trump urged lawmakers to "go big or go home!!!" on another round of emergency aid.

Any bill still needs to get through the Democratic-controlled House and the GOP-controlled Senate, where some Republicans have expressed concern about another massive spending initiative amid the nation's ballooning deficit, which is projected to hit a record-shattering $3.3 trillion this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

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Last week, McConnell said it was unlikely that Congress would cut a deal on another relief package before the election.

“The situation is kind of murky and I think the murkiness is a result of the proximity to the election and everybody kind of trying to elbow for political advantage,” McConnell said during an event in his home state of Kentucky. “I’d like to see us rise above that like we did back in March and April but I think that’s unlikely in the next three weeks.”