Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a vote on Republicans' $500 billion coronavirus relief bill, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House officials continue to negotiate on a broader aid package for families and businesses still reeling from the pandemic.
Although Republicans were widely unified in their effort to push forward the measure in a procedural vote, the measure did not secure the necessary 60 votes needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.
The bill, less than a third of the size of the $1.8 trillion offer from the White House, included boosted federal unemployment benefits, another round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a key small business rescue program, money for schools and liability protections for businesses.
Democrats previously rejected a similar, pared-back proposal introduced by McConnell in September, pushing back against "piecemeal" legislation.
The Kentucky Republican said last week that he expected Democrats to block the legislation.
"That's a lot of money ... to target the actual needs the country has," McConnell told Politico. "I'm not anticipating they’re going to support it, but I'm going to give them the opportunity."
On Tuesday, most Senate Democrats voted to table a separate bill that would have reauthorized another round of small-business loans through the PPP, rejecting the legislation as a political stunt.
The PPP loans — designed to keep small businesses afloat and avert mass layoffs — were open to any business with fewer than 500 employees per location. So long as 60% of the money goes toward maintaining payroll, the federal government will forgive it, essentially turning the loan into a grant. The program was credited with propping up some 51 million jobs in the early months of the crisis.
“The Democratic leaders have spent months holding out for a long far-left wish list of non-COVID related priorities and restricting additional aid until they get it. All or nothing. All or nothing — that’s been their position,” McConnell said from the Senate floor Tuesday. “There’s no reason the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program should wait another single day.”
McConnell's efforts to squeeze through targeted relief comes even as the Trump administration and Democratic leaders try to cut a broader deal that could cost upward of $2 trillion (House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion bill, but President Trump indicated on Tuesday that he is willing to go even higher).
"I can tell you that the negotiations have entered a new phase, which is more on the technical side of trying to get the language right if we can agree upon the numbers," White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told FOX Business on Wednesday. "We’re still apart. Still a number of issues to work on, but the last 24 hours have moved the ball down the field.”
But key hurdles remain, including funding for state and local governments and potential pushback from Senate Republicans, who are wary of passing a trillion-dollar aid package amid growing concerns about the nation's ballooning deficit, which is projected to hit a record-shattering $3.3 trillion this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
McConnell has also emerged as an obstacle in negotiations, privately urging the White House not to settle with Pelosi before the election, according to multiple media reports published Tuesday.
Without a deal in place soon, Pelosi and other Democrats have warned it'll be too late to pass anything by Election Day — and have suggested relief may not come until the new Congress is inaugurated at the end of January.