Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered a scathing speech Monday after Democrats rejected a massive relief package designed to keep the US economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The measure needed 60 votes to move forward. Lawmakers voted 47-47 on Sunday and then 49-46 on Monday. Five members of the Senate have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in quarantine.
“The notion that we have time to play games here with the American economy and the American people is utterly absurd,” said McConnell, noting the recent stock market crashes.
In a heated speech on the Senate floor, McConnell chastised Democrats for attempting to insert such things as “tighter fuel emissions standards for the airline industry”, “union bargaining powers,” “solar tax credits,” essentially an ideological wish list into the bill. One Democrat was quoted as saying, “how many times are we going to get a shot at a Trillion dollar program?”
“Our good friends on the other side,” he said, referring to the Democrats, “would not have been disadvantaged one bit if this vote had succeeded because it would have required potentially 30 more hours of discussion, during which these seemingly endless negotiations could go on as long as they would like.”
Democrats said the bill didn’t go far enough to help working class Americans, hospitals, state governments, and the unemployed. But they also tried to add unrelated items to the deal – including measures favoring renewable energy and unions.
The main sticking point is a $500 billion sum to be used to help distressed companies (such as cruise lines) and a $75 billion sum for industry-specific loans.
“We had a high level of bipartisanship in five different working groups over the last 48 hours, where members who were participating were reaching agreement,” noted McConnell. “And then all of a sudden the Democratic leader and the Speaker of the House shows up and we are back to square one.”
According to McConnell, one House Democrat said, “This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.”
The bill Democrats voted against included $350 billion for small business loans that would be forgiven if companies use the loans to keep workers on payroll, $75 billion for hospitals, a one-time payment of $1,200 per person, and $500 billion to help distressed businesses including airlines and medical equipment suppliers.
We are “fiddling” with the emotions of the American people, continued McConnell, with the markets, and with our healthcare.
“The American people expect us to act tomorrow and I want everyone to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dicker when the country expects us to come together and address this problem.”
“[Democrats’] obstruction achieves nothing…other than prevent us from getting into a position where there are literally 30 more hours that they could use to continue to dicker,” he said, describing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s intervention as “outrageous nonsense.”
“We have an obligation to the American people to deal with this emergency and to deal with it tomorrow,” said McConnell. “We will have this vote again at some point of my choosing and hopefully some adults will show up on the other side of the room and understand the gravity of the situation and the need to act.”
Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who described the relief package as a “slush fund” for corporations “with almost no conditions,” urged McConnell to hold a vote on “aggressive measures to help small businesses, workers, [and] communities so they reflect what they need and so they can get moving.”
In the meantime, Speaker Pelosi is working on a $2.5 trillion stimulus plan which includes one-time cash payments of $1,500 per individual and $7,500 for families of five.