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Democrats Block Senate Economic Stimulus Bill as Talks Falter

2020-03-22 21:35:55

(Bloomberg) — Senate Democrats blocked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to advance a coronavirus economic rescue package Sunday after leaders in both chambers disagreed on how to spend nearly $2 trillion.

The 47-47 vote, with 60 needed to advance the measure, puts in question McConnell’s plan for the Senate to pass the bill Monday.

Late Sunday night, McConnell set up a redo of the procedural vote for 9:45 a.m. Monday, “15 minutes after the markets open, and see if there’s a change of heart.”

Republicans and Democrats alike want an immediate and extensive rescue for an economy ravaged by the coronavirus. But they continue to differ on key sections, including a $500 billion chunk of the bill that could be used to help corporations, including airlines, or state and local governments.

“We’ll see what happens,” President Donald Trump told reporters after the vote. “I think we’ll get there. To me it’s not very complicated. We have to help the worker, we have to save the companies.”

After the vote failed, an angry McConnell cited plummeting stock futures to express the urgency to act tomorrow, and he ripped House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

“The markets are already reacting to this outrageous nonsense,” McConnell said. “We’re fiddling here. We’re fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets.”

S&P 500 futures dropped 5% and hit limit down at the start of the trading day in Asia after the index lost more than 4% on Friday.

Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued negotiations Sunday evening after the vote, “and they just had another productive meeting,” the senator’s spokesman Justin Goodman said in a statement.

McConnell set up a move to reconsider the vote at a later time and urged “adults” among the Democrats to show up and change their minds.

“This obstruction achieves nothing,” he said.

Schumer complained the bill was partisan, includes “a large corporate bailout” with insufficient oversight, and shortchanges the response to the pandemic. He said there should be “much more money” for hospitals, ventilators, testing and other equipment, as well as aid to state and local governments.

He said negotiations will continue and that it’s possible the measure could be finished in the next 24 hours.

The vote came hours after the first senator, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, announced that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, and some other Republicans said they were self-quarantining because they had been in contact with him.

Pelosi left a meeting in McConnell’s office earlier Sunday saying they had no deal and the House would write its own package — a move that could add days of partisan wrangling.

Even before the defeat of the Senate’s procedural motion, House Democratic leaders were not planning to call the chamber’s members back to Washington on Monday, or even Tuesday. House Democrats have instead scheduled a caucus-wide telephone call Tuesday afternoon, rather than bringing members back by then, senior Democratic aides said.

McConnell’s Republican team had agreed to add hundreds of billions of dollars in spending, including additional unemployment aid and public health spending, but Democrats remained unsatisfied and charged that Republicans were focused on corporations over workers.

A major package remains likely but now could take additional time for the two parties to work out their differences, even as the virus continues to ravage not just the nation but Congress itself. Two House members, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Utah Democrat Ben McAdams, also have tested positive for the virus.

Read more: Why Central Banks Can’t Fight a Virus Slowdown Alone: QuickTake

(Updates with new vote set in third paragraph)

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