Senate Democrats again vote against advancing coronavirus package

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday morning for further negotiations on the coronavirus legislation. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI

March 23 (UPI) — Senate Democrats on Monday voted against advancing a more-than $1 trillion coronavirus stimulus package for the second time, saying it failed to adequately protect American workers.

It was the second time Democrats declined to approve a procedural vote to begin debate on the package, which could total $1.6 trillion. The two parties were continuing negotiations on the legislation with hopes the chamber can pass it by the end of Monday.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland on Monday. He’s said he’s confident the chamber will pass the legislation soon.

“Given more time, I believe we could reach a point where the legislation is close enough to what the nation needs for all senators, all senators to want to move forward,” Schumer said. “We are not yet at that point.”

Democrats say the legislation focuses too much on helping big corporations over helping the average worker. They say it doesn’t protect workers from layoffs and object to a provision that allows Mnuchin to keep secret which companies receive federal funds for up to six months.

They’re seeking unemployment measures lasting four months instead of three, and which include independent contractors.

Democrats also are accusing Republicans of adding unrelated measures to the legislation, including an extension of an abstinence education program set to expire in May, one Democratic aide told Politico.

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Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of obstructing the bill.

“So we’re fiddling here, fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our healthcare. The American people expect us to act tomorrow,” he said. “And I want everybody to fully understand if we aren’t able to act [Monday], 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.”

Mnuchin said the first part of the bill includes what he called “small business retention loans” as many businesses have closed while the federal government suggests people remain home to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and some states have ordered mandatory closures.

The bill would also provide direct deposits, which Mnuchin said would see an average family of four receive about $3,000, along with enhanced unemployment insurance for people who have been laid off as a result of the outbreak.

If passed, the legislation will be the third aid package aimed at tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has killed nearly 500 people and sickened more than 40,000 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University figures as of noon Monday.

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