Senate Democrats on Sunday blocked a coronavirus stimulus package from moving forward as talks on several key provisions remain stalled.
Senators voted 47-47 on advancing a “shell” bill, a placeholder that the text of the stimulus legislation would have been swapped into, falling short of the two-thirds threshold needed to advance the proposal.
Hopes of a quick stimulus deal quickly unraveled on Sunday as the four congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to break the impasse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also delayed the procedural vote for three hours as they tried to get a deal.
Democratic senators argue that the GOP bill includes several “non-starters” and walks back areas of agreement, such as expanding unemployment insurance, they thought they had reached with Republicans.
They emerged from a closed-door lunch fuming over the bill circulated by Republicans and called for McConnell to hold off on the 3 p.m. cloture vote.
“We are pleading with McConnell not to call this vote,” Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said after the lunch. “It’s a serious mistake. We have not negotiated this to the point of agreement yet.”
Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who is up for reelection in a deeply red state, said that the Senate needed to be “as unified as possible.”
“We don’t need split votes,” he said.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) added that the proposal put forward by Republicans was “totally inadequate.”
That resulted in McConnell delaying the vote to 6 p.m.
The vote eventually moved forward with five GOP senators absent. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) announced Sunday morning he had tested positive for the coronavirus and would self-quarantine. That led to two Republican colleagues he had interacted with, Utah Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, announcing they would also self-quarantine and miss the vote.
Republican Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Rick Scott (Fla.) had previously said they would self-quarantine as a precaution that was unrelated to Paul's announcement.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill includes “problematic” provisions and that McConnell should have made the negotiations include both chambers and the White House from the beginning.
“Unfortunately, the legislation has not improved enough in the past three hours,” he said.
McConnell appeared visibly angry as he spoke from the Senate floor after the bill failed, pledging to force the vote again.
“The American people are watching this spectacle. I’m told the futures market is down 5 percent. I’m also told that’s when trading stops. So the notion that we have time to play games here with the American economy and the American people is utterly absurd,” McConnell said.
“The American people expect us to act tomorrow, and I want everybody to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow, it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dither when the country expects us to come together and address this problem,” McConnell added.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that they had not formally been told that Democrats would block the bill but acknowledged that individual members had indicated their opposition.
“Hopefully we can get everybody on board with this thing today and get it out of here,” he told reporters.
He added that if Democrats blocked the bill “they better have a plan ready to go because we don’t have plenty of time.”
But the outcome appeared all but guaranteed, as even members from across the Democratic caucus indicated that they would vote against advancing the bill unless leadership could work out an eleventh-hour deal.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) called the bill the “same old repeated story from Mitch McConnell.”
“I’m not going to vote yes then no and this and that. ... If they can work out something between now and 3, then that’s fine,” he added.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the GOP bill “bad news” and said it was focused on “bailing out the biggest corporations.” He added that blocking the bill over the procedural hurdle could force both sides back to the negotiating table.
“In my view, right now it would be giving people unrealistic hope to proceed now. We should let people know immediately that Republicans have taken a U-turn,” he said.