A stimulus package that was supposedly designed to prop up a U.S. economy battered by work and commerce stoppages resulting from the coronavirus pandemic failed to advance in the Senate on Sunday. The bill was blocked by Democrats who said that the bill contained a $500 billion “slush fund” that could be used in secret to funnel cash to big corporations — including Donald Trump’s own businesses — but did little to help small business and individual Americans suffering a personal economic crisis due to the shutdowns.
The bill’s failure provoked an emotional speech on the senate floor by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who blamed Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the Democrats’ refusal to pass the bill, as seen in the video below. The legislation would have required 60 votes to advance past the cloture stage, allowing it to be debated on the Senate floor before a final up-or-down ballot. The final tally came in at 47-47.
Five Republicans failed to vote because they had already entered self-quarantine, due to exposure to coronavirus. Kentucky Sen. Ron Paul tested positive for the virus on Sunday, and four other Republicans said that they had been in contact with Paul — Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both of Utah, Rick Scott of Florida, and Cory Gardner of Colorado, according to Politico.
.@senatemajldr: "We had a high level of bipartisanship in 5 different working groups over the last 48 hours, where members who were participating were reaching agreement. Then all of a sudden the Democratic Leader & the Speaker of the House shows up and we're back to square one." pic.twitter.com/8ADBn8Tcj9— CSPAN (@cspan) March 22, 2020
On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who is independent, but generally votes with Democrats — also failed to vote for reasons he has not explained. Sanders is currently in the process of deciding whether to continue his campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, according to Politico.
Prior to the vote, Democrats were reportedly “fuming,” after a lunch meeting in which Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin revealed final details of the proposed bill, according to The Hill.
In addition to the $500 billion fund that could be doled out at the administration’s discretion, the bill also contained only “weak” provisions against corporations using the taxpayer cash to purchase their own stock, according to criticisms by Democrats. The bill was also said to be “weak” on stopping companies that take bailout cash from laying off their employees anyway.
In his Senate floor speech, McConnell blamed Pelosi for the bill’s failure, saying, “she’s the Speaker of the House, not the Speaker of the Senate. We don’t have one.”
“We were doing just fine until that intervention,” McConnell said.
Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, accused McConnell of abandoning the bipartisan process on Saturday night, after which he “had his people write the bill alone,” the senator said on his Twitter account. “The result was a giveaway to Wall Street that leaves out people and small businesses and front line health workers.”