Senators block new virus aid, Pelosi denounces “coup”

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate tied up on Thursday over President Donald Trump’s new request for coronavirus aid, as Democrats refused to approve his proposal for an additional $ 250 billion to boost small businesses, demanding changes as well as an additional $ 250 billion for health care providers and states. Republicans would disagree.

The stalemate does not end the search for more bailout funds, but it came as the government announced that an additional 6.6 million people had applied for unemployment benefits last week, increasing concerns about the slippage of the economy into a severe recession. The small business program involved is experiencing difficult deployment.

GOP leader Mitch McConnell sought to limit Thursday’s debate at Trump’s behest and would not accept Democratic additions. Even if the GOP’s plan was successful in the Senate, the Democratic-controlled House is determined to make changes to ensure small businesses in minority communities benefit from the explosion in government funding.

Democrats and Republicans agree that aid is urgently needed and talks will certainly continue, but it reinforces the fact that Congress and the White House will have to strike a bipartisan deal – especially with lawmakers scattered around their borders. States and Districts and the House and Senate unable to conduct roll-call votes.

“No one thinks this will be the Senate’s last word on COVID-19,” McConnell said. “Let’s continue to work together, with speed and bipartisanship. We will get through this crisis together. “

Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said the Senate vote was just a “coup” as the country faces an “epic” crisis. She ridiculed the administration for trying to block a $ 250 billion request through Congress on 48 hours’ notice with little data to back it up.

“Truly?” Pelosi said on a conference call with reporters.

The dropout comes as communities across the country scramble to meet health care needs and save crisis-stricken local economies. A new unemployment report shows that a whopping 16.8 million Americans are now out of work.

The massive injections of federal liquidity – the $ 250 billion sought by the administration would be in addition to combined legislation already totaling around $ 2.5 trillion – is intended to help the $ 21 trillion U.S. economy weather the current recession, causing economic contraction and rising unemployment that overwhelms many state systems to provide unemployment benefits.

With Congress virtually closed – and it’s unlikely to return on April 20, as planned – lawmakers have pledged to continue negotiating with the White House.

McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the “paycheck protection” program, which involves direct grants to businesses to keep employees on payroll and pay the company’s rent, is on the way to being paid. ” quickly depleting its first injection of $ 350 billion as companies rush to ask for help.

Democrats aren’t opposed to increasing the payroll fund, but they want to make sure the new program benefits businesses in minority communities that are often underserved by traditional lenders.

“What the secretary asked for and the bill that the Senate Majority Leader introduced would never be passed in the House,” she said. “It is a basis for some negotiations.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Accused McConnell of trying to push through legislation and detailed a variety of issues with the program, including fears that many large lenders are not serving minority neighborhoods.

Democrats are pushing for half of the White House’s request, or $ 125 billion, to be channeled through community-based financial institutions serving farmers and small businesses and nonprofits owned by companies. families, women, minorities and veterans in rural, tribal and suburban areas. and urban communities.

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They circulated a $ 500 billion plan that would include Trump’s request and add $ 100 billion for hospitals and other health care providers and $ 150 billion for state and local governments, along with an increase 15% of food stamp benefits. They hope this will serve as the basis for discussions with McConnell in the future.

With Capitol Hill all but closed, legislation is more easily passed by unanimous agreement, which is often not an easy task.

Another complication is Lone Wolf Republican Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky, who promises to block efforts to get such important legislation passed in the House without lawmakers present and ready to vote. The Senate is used to passing laws by unanimous consent, but the House is more generally led by the majority party which imposes its will.

Pelosi said McConnell’s request “just cannot” go through the Democratic-controlled House with unanimous consent.

The future of the legislation will likely be largely determined by a familiar small group of senior Washington officials, including Pelosi, McConnell and Mnuchin, as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Vice President Mike Pence has called another day of conference calls with lawmakers and the coronavirus task force, discussing with Republicans and Senate Democrats separately, the crisis and the federal response.

The Senate met for the brief pro forma session with just four senators present – none masked – to consider the dueling proposals.

Senate Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Who chaired the brief session, told reporters the chamber was “unlikely” to reopen on April 20 as scheduled.

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