By Lucas Aulbach
Louisville Courier Journal
As the coronavirus pandemic pushed several senators into self-quarantine, U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an end to “obstruction” from Senate Democrats and officials on the other side of the aisle Sunday evening after an economic stimulus proposal was blocked.
The bill would send direct payments of $1,200 to millions of American adults and prop up small businesses with a $350 billion lending program, with more money going toward hospitals and unemployment programs.
But $500 billion set aside in the proposal to be distributed mostly at the direction of the Treasury Department concerned Democrats in Washington – Sen. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, said she was concerned that fund lacked oversight and could end up in the hands of corporate executives instead of workers in need. Others, according to Politico, thought the bill did not include enough money for health care and unemployment support.
The proposal needed 60 votes to pass through the Senate, but a party-line vote Sunday came down to an even 47-47 split. Five Republican senators — Rand Paul (Kentucky), Mike Lee (Utah), Mitt Romney (Utah), Rick Scott (Florida) and Cory Gardner (Colorado) — are currently in self-quarantine and did not participate in the vote. (Paul tested positive for the coronavirus Sunday and went into isolation, as did Lee and Romney, who had been in close contact with the Kentucky senator.)
McConnell, on the Senate floor Sunday evening, blasted the vote, which took place two days of discussion highlighted by a “high level of bipartisanship,” and accused Democrats of “fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care.”
“I want everyone to fully understand, if we aren’t able to act tomorrow, it’ll be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dicker when the country expects us to come together and address this problem,” McConnell said Sunday night.
McConnell hoped to set another vote for 9:45 a.m. Monday, 15 minutes after the markets opened, but U.S. Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer objected, pushing the vote back to noon. Officials planned to reconvene around 9 a.m. that morning to resume discussions.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was optimistic about the deal, despite the setback.
“I think we’re very close,” Mnuchin said late Sunday, according to the Washington Post. “The teams are going to work through the night.”
Still, last-minute “obstruction” by the Democrats irked McConnell.
The majority leader, who has taken credit for preventing former President Barack Obama from filling judicial vacancies in the final years of his term and has embraced his reputation as the “Grim Reaper” who prevents progressive measures from advancing in the Senate, said those in Washington had an obligation this time to work together under the unprecedented circumstances the pandemic has presented.
“Look, I can understand obstruction when you’re trying to achieve something,” McConnell said. “This obstruction achieves nothing, nothing whatsoever, other than prevent us from getting into a position where there are literally 30 more hours that they could use to continue to dicker.”