‘Dilly-dallying around’: Coronavirus relief again falls short in U.S. Senate vote

Politics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A far-reaching coronavirus economic stimulus package failed to advance in the U.S. Senate on Monday as Democrats said it contained too little money for hospitals and not enough restrictions on a fund to help big businesses.

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walks to the meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (not pictured) during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The 49-46 vote left the sweeping measure short of the 60 votes needed to advance, as the chamber remained deadlocked for a second day.

Tempers frayed as Republicans accused Democrats of obstruction during a national emergency.

“The country is burning and your side wants to play political games,” said Republican Senator John Thune, who angrily accused Democrats of “dilly-dallying around.”

Democrats said they were close to an agreement with Republicans and predicted a modified version would win passage soon.

“Take a deep breath. We’re gonna pass this bill,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who estimated the bill would cost $2 trillion, said before the vote that the two sides were making progress.

“We knocked off a bunch of things on the list already and we’re closing in on issues,” Mnuchin told reporters after exiting Schumer’s office. He did not give specific.

U.S. stocks fell on Monday as the coronavirus forced more states into lockdown, eclipsing optimism from an unprecedented round of policy easing by the Federal Reserve.

The bill represents a third effort by Congress to blunt the economic toll of the pandemic that has killed at least 428 people in the United States and sickened more than 34,000, leading state governors to order nearly a third of the nation’s population to stay at home and putting much business activity on hold.

The measure includes financial aid for ordinary Americans, small businesses and critically affected industries, including airlines.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to add unrelated provisions, such as expanded tax credits for wind and solar power and increased leverage for labor unions.

Democrats said Republicans were also trying to add provisions that would exclude nonprofit groups from receiving small-business aid, and extend a sexual abstinence-education program that is due to expire in May.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, released her own version, which would add billions of dollars to help states conduct elections by mail.

Republicans normally hold a slim 53-47 majority in the chamber, short of the 60 votes they need to advance most legislation.

But the coronavirus threat has affected their ranks. Republican Senator Rand Paul said he tested positive for the virus on Sunday, and several others have self-quarantined as a precautionary measure. Republicans only mustered 47 votes in Sunday’s procedural vote.

Reporting by David Morgan and Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis

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