Senate Democrats blocked the Republican coronavirus economic rescue plan in a rare Sunday evening vote, objecting to what they saw as massive corporate bailouts in a package that does not do enough for working people.
The measure needed 60 votes to advance. With five Republicans self-quarantined because of the virus, and Democrats in opposition, it fell far short, 47 to 47.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already delayed the vote from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. after Democrats listed numerous flaws with the bill.
"At the top of the list, it included a large corporate bailout provision, with no protections for workers and virtually no oversight," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the afternoon. "It also significantly cut back on the money our hospitals, our cities, our states, our medical workers and so many others needed during this crisis."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was harsher.
"The overall view is that they want to create a slush fund for giant corporations. No help for employees and no help for the hospitals, and that cannot be where we are," Warren said.
"We're not here to create a slush fund for Donald Trump and his family, or a slush fund for the Treasury Department to be able to hand out to their friends," she said.
Warren was referring to some $500 billion in loan money that would be under the control of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. He would have complete discretion on how to use it, and would be able to keep it secret for six months.
Democrats were especially displeased that the aid would come with restrictions on executive pay, but not strings to keep companies from firing people or buying back stock.
Talks throughout the afternoon yielded no breakthroughs, while McConnell and other Republicans charged the Democrats were playing politics
“This is not a political opportunity. It is a national emergency," Mcconnell said. “That’s why we have engaged in days of bipartisan talks to get to this point. And that’s why it is time to move forward."
"I'm calling on Senate+House Democrats 2stop the politics!" Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa tweeted.
Democrats earlier said they had little idea what was in the bill, and disparaged McConnell's description of it.
"The first agreement had no Democrats [signing off] as part of it, so McConnell calling it bipartisan, none of our caucus was very happy,” Schumer said.
McConnell pointed to recent discussions that included Democrats to argue the measure had become bipartisan, even if every Democrat voted against proceeding to the measure.
"I’ve conspicuously avoided trying to turn this into any partisan effort. For two days," McConnell said.
The failure means McConnell will have to go back to work in hopes of getting Democrats on board.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced earlier in the day that her committee chairs were pushing ahead with their own version of the legislation. The move could put pressure on McConnell, or provide a fall-back plan for Democrats to advance a bill in talks with the White House, as the two previous coronavirus bills were advanced.
McConnell was furious after the vote, and accused Pelosi of sabotaging what he insisted had been a bipartisan effort until "all of a sudden the Democratic leader and the Speaker of the House shows up."
He also seemed especially alarmed now that the virus has impacted senators personally, not merely the states they represent.
"We've never been confronted with anything like this before -- totally different," McConnell said. "And we're not immune to it in terms of the public health risk. Coronavirus has hit the Senate today as well. We have five members... in self-quarantine.
"So everybody understands the emergency. Particularly when it hits close to home, not just back in our states -- right here in the Senate," McConnell said.
We’re fiddling here. Fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care," McConnell said.
"Hopefully, some adults will show up on the other side of the room and understand the gravity of the situation -- the need to act before the markets go down further and the American people become even more depressed about our lack of ability to come together under the most extraordinary circumstances," McConnell said.
He added he hopes to bring the bill back Monday.
Schumer said McConnell knew exactly what was coming.
"The Majority Leader was well aware of how this vote would go before it happened, but he chose to move forward with it anyway, even though negotiations are continuing. So who’s playing games?" Schumer said.
He pledged to keep working with Mnuchin, and a spokesman said later they continued to meet and hash out Democratic lawmakers' concerns.
“Leader Schumer and Secretary Mnuchin are working late into the night, and they just had another productive meeting," the spokesman said.
"The bill can, and must, continue to improve," Schumer said. "We’re closer than we’ve been at any time over the past 48 hours to an agreement, but there are still too many problems in the proposed legislation. Can we overcome the remaining disagreements in the next twenty-four hours? Yes. We can and we should. The nation demands it."
Later, McConnell called for a 9:45 a.m. re-vote on the package for Monday, and pointedly added it's "fifteen minutes after the markets open." Futures markets plunged while the Senate voted earlier.
Schumer blocked that move, however, and the Senate was due in at noon. Talks went on through the night between Schumer, Mnuchin, and the White House's legislative affairs director, Eric