WASHINGTON ― The Senate left town on Thursday without taking any legislative action to address the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which in the U.S. has resulted in nearly 100,000 deaths and 38 million jobless claims.
GOP leaders maintain that the four bills Congress already passed, which total about $3 trillion in borrowed spending, are sufficient, at least for now.
“It’s illogical to say we’ve spent $3 trillion and we wouldn’t want to take a look whether it’s being efficient before we rush headlong and push another $3 trillion out the door,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday. He dismissed a new $3 trillion measure the Democratic-controlled House passed last week as “crazy.”
But Senate Democrats argued that more federal spending is needed, given the rising unemployment rate, dire economic projections and calls for additional legislative action from the Federal Reserve.
“If you look at our activity across the past three weeks, you’d hardly know there was a COVID crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech Thursday.
Senate Republicans held a few hearings on coronavirus testing and reopening the economy, but they mostly focused on confirming executive and judicial nominees.
The impasse isn’t expected to break anytime soon. The chamber won’t be back in session until June 1, after its week-long Memorial Day recess. No discussions are underway between House and Senate leaders concerning another relief package, and the Trump administration appears content with the funding pause.
Some Republicans have broken with their leadership and are calling for more federal action to address the health and economic crises. Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Mitt Romney of Utah proposed plans to help businesses and workers performing essential services. Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine support providing aid to states and localities whose tax revenue has dried up amid the stalled economy.
Vulnerable Republicans up for re-election this year are also facing an uncomfortable position of going home to face constituents demanding more relief from Congress. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of the most endangered incumbents, on Wednesday threatened to block the Senate from going on recess, saying that it was “unfathomable” for lawmakers to go home without doing more to mitigate the various effects of the pandemic.
But he backed down on Thursday after a conversation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who promised the chamber would act at a later date, CNN’s Manu Raju. Gardner, who a recent poll showed trailing in his re-election bid, also secured a commitment from McConnell to advance a bill he helped author to aid national parks, however.
The Senate made a last-minute effort ― but fell short ― on Thursday to pass a bipartisan bill that would extend the amount of time that small businesses have to use federal funds intended to help them survive.
The loans were provided under the Paycheck Protection Program, which began to allocate its funds in April. Some loan recipients are due to hit the eight-week mark in June, before many states have fully reopened, prompting calls for an extension from restaurants and other segments of the small business sector.
“By the time we get back from recess, the very first loans will have reached their eight-week period. We need to act before that date,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who helped author the program, warned earlier this week.
The Senate is looking at extending the loan forgiveness to 16 weeks ― but it failed to reach unanimous agreement to do so before taking its break. A bill the House plans to pass next week would give businesses up to 24 weeks to spend the loan money.
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