Senate defeat of ‘skinny’ coronavirus aid bill puts it on ‘dead-end street’

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By Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday killed a Republican bill that would have provided around $300 billion in new coronavirus aid, as Democrats seeking far more funding prevented it from advancing.

By a vote of 52-47, the Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed in the 100-member chamber to advance the partisan bill toward passage, leaving the future of any new coronavirus aid in doubt.

“It’s a sort of a dead-end street,” Republican Senator Pat Roberts told reporters following the vote.

“Along with a pandemic – the COVID-19 – we have a pandemic of politics” in Congress, he added.

Senator Rand Paul, who opposed the deficit spending in the bill, was the lone Republican to vote no.

Democratic leaders in Congress have been pushing for a far more vigorous response: around $3 trillion in new funding amid the continuing pandemic.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who spearheaded the Republican bill that failed, had offered a more expansive, $1 trillion coronavirus measure in July. Amid strong opposition from Democrats and many Republicans, he was unable to even stage a vote on that proposal.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters before the failed Senate vote on Thursday that she thought negotiations could still produce a compromise before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections.

But, following the vote, several Republican senators were skeptical.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said some jobs gains and early signs of progress against the coronavirus had left him less worried than before.

So far, the coronavirus has led to the deaths of nearly 191,000 people in the United States and over 900,000 globally..

The medical community and politicians are hoping the development of a vaccine will finally tame the outbreak after months of Washington failing to do so.

Congress is now expected to mainly focus its work on other pressing legislation so members can return to their home states in October to campaign for re-election.

But one influential centrist Democrat, Representative Derek Kilmer, expressed concern about the stalled coronavirus relief efforts in a conference call with lawmakers, Democratic aides said on Thursday.

“Representative Kilmer said he thinks we should get a deal, not a bad or meager deal, but some deal before we recess again,” one Democratic aide said, asking not to be named. Kilmer chairs the moderate New Democrat coalition.

PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN FOCUS

Earlier this year, Congress rapidly passed four bills providing about $3 trillion to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The Democratic-controlled House passed a fifth bill in May that would provide another $3 trillion in aid, but gridlock has since prevailed.

President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has become a focus of the 2020 presidential race. Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who leads in opinion polls, accused Trump on Wednesday of “dereliction” of duty in dealing with the pandemic, which has cost millions of jobs. The Republican president has touted his management of the crisis.

The Republican bill would have renewed a federal unemployment benefit, but at a lower level than Democrats sought. It also would set new protections for businesses against lawsuits during the pandemic.

An array of other initiatives – including aid to state and local governments, a second round of direct payments to households, and bailouts for airlines – were not addressed in the Republican bill.

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