The Senate on Thursday was unable to advance a slimmed down, Republican-crafted coronavirus aid package — and with the legislative calendar winnowing down, it’s becoming increasingly uncertain that an additional round of aid will be distributed before the 2020 election.
This latest proposal required 60 votes to proceed and was rejected 52-47 in a near party-line vote, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) breaking ranks and voting against consideration of the measure, and no Democrats voting in its favor. Even if the measure had passed the chamber, it would not have been taken up by House Democrats, who back in May advanced their own relief package and have since been hammering what they consider to be Senate Republicans’ delayed response, riddled with partisan provisions.
The Republicans’ scaled-down proposal borrowed heavily from provisions incorporated into their earlier Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act, as well as the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act in terms of the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) distribution. The new proposal would, among other things, provide an Education Stabilization Fund with $105 billion for programs housed under the Department of Education (ED), and just over $29 billion directed to HEERF, which would provide grants directly to institutions of higher education, based largely on the enrollment of full-time equivalent (FTE) Pell Grant recipients.
Congressional leaders remain far apart on aid negotiations, with Republicans largely praising the importance of their latest measure.
“Since March, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress has passed four major bills providing nearly $3 trillion to provide relief to families, workers and businesses, and to contain the disease, but there is more work to be done,” said Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to work together to achieve a result for the American people.”
Democratic leadership have continued to assail the proposal, arguing it will do little to meet the needs of the vast majority of Americans impacted by the pandemic.
“We'll know Senate Republicans are serious about COVID-19 relief when they stop insisting on harmful policies that have zero chance of becoming law and zero ability to meet our communities' deep needs,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the Senate education committee. “Until then, they’re still wasting time people don’t have.”
It’s unclear whether congressional negotiations will breach their summer-long stalemate, but faced with a federal spending deadline of September 30, it is possible that a number of relief policies will come up during negotiations over a planned continuing resolution.
Both Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have said a shutdown would be off the table and are seeking to enact a continuing resolution (CR) before the spending deadline, without tacking on any policy riders.
“The focus for the moment is two things — one, making sure we get the CR done — those are where I'm having discussions with Pelosi — and obviously working with the Senate on what we'd like to call the targeted bill,” Mnuchin said.
During her weekly remarks on Thursday Pelosi reiterated that it was her intention to keep the negotiations over additional coronavirus aid and government spending separate.
With roughly three weeks left in session there will likely be a flurry of legislative activity in the coming weeks — but whether any of those actions staves off a shutdown or allocates additional aid remains to be seen.
Publication Date: 9/10/2020