U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled on Tuesday that he would refuse to allow Congress to spend more than $500 billion to tackle the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking at a press conference in Washington, McConnell said that he was “open to a targeted bill” that was “narrowly targeted at schools, at healthcare providers” and loans to help businesses keep people employed.
But McConnell said he had had “no private discussions” with President-elect Joe Biden or the Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives, who have repeatedly called for more than $2 trillion in funding to help fight the economic crisis.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession will not end without our help,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote in their letter.
Households and businesses across the country have suffered due to a sharp decrease in economic activity during the pandemic. More than 11 million Americans have tested positive for the virus and more than 247,000 have died. The nation’s unemployment rate has steadily declined since the first peak of the outbreak but still stands at 6.9%.
Congress acted quickly to pass economic relief during the early months of the outbreak, but the Republican-controlled Senate has since failed to approve an additional aid bill. The Democratic-controlled House has passed plans worth up to $3.4 trillion, but McConnell has said his members will not allow the government to spend such a large sum of money.
President Donald Trump has said publicly that he wants Congress to pass another rescue package, but has reportedly distanced himself from the negotiations between congressional leaders. Trump has instead appeared focused on bringing legal challenges against his election defeat to Biden.
A White House spokesperson said in a statement to Fox News: “There is no one more committed to delivering relief for workers than President Trump, and the White House will continue working around the clock to make it happen—reaching out to both Republicans and Democrats in the process.”
McConnell has said that Republicans are opposed to a new round of direct payments to Americans. Millions of workers received a $1,200 check from the government earlier in the pandemic. The Senate Majority Leader has offered $300 per week in increased unemployment benefits, along with more loans for small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. Republicans also want to give companies increased protections against legal action arising from the pandemic.
But Democrats in the Senate voted to block McConnell’s so-called “skinny” relief plan in a vote last month. On Tuesday, McConnell accused Democrats of having an attitude of “$2.5 trillion or nothing.”
Democrats in Congress want to send another $1,200 check to workers. They have also called for $400 billion to help state and local governments, whose balance sheets have been battered by the pandemic. Democrats also passed plans to increase unemployment benefits by $600 per week – double McConnell’s offer.
Democratic leaders have accused Republicans of refusing to act despite the severe economic pain being felt by businesses and workers. “It’s like the house is burning down and they just refuse to throw water on it,” Pelosi said at a press conference last week.
Pelosi and Schumer have said that they and Biden want Congress to pass a relief bill during the “lame duck” session of Congress – the time between Trump’s defeat and Biden’s inauguration in January as the 46th president.
Which party controls the Senate during the start of Biden’s term will be decided by two January runoff elections for Georgia’s Senate seats. If Democrats win both seats, the Senate will have a 50-50 tie that may be broken by vice president-elect Kamala Harris. If Republicans retain one or both of the seats, however, Biden will have to work with a Republican-controlled Senate in order to pass any new legislation.
Drug companies testing possible vaccines against the virus have reported encouraging results, but most Americans are unlikely to have access to a vaccine until the Spring.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the eldest member of the Senate, announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for coronavirus and would isolate while he recovered.