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McConnell promises Senate vote on stripped-down coronavirus relief package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Republican-led U.S. Senate would vote on a scaled-down coronavirus economic relief bill of the type Democrats have rejected as they hold out for trillions in aid.

FILE PHOTO: Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell speaks during a debate with Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath, in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S., October 12, 2020. Michael Clubb/Pool via REUTERS

With negotiations on a broader package stalled and Election Day approaching, Republicans and Democrats faced pressure to take action to help Americans weather a pandemic that has killed more than 214,000 people and damaged the U.S. economy.

Congress passed $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, including help for the unemployed, in the spring.

Both sides say more aid is needed now, but appear to remain far apart, and a bipartisan deal on coronavirus relief remains unlikely before Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections.

President Donald Trump, a Republican who called off coronavirus relief talks last week only to restart them days later, pushed lawmakers again on Tuesday to “Go big or go home!!!”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, took a swipe on Tuesday at Trump’s about face. “Following his tweet, the stock market went down and so did he in the polls,” Pelosi said of Trump’s assertion there would be no aid package before the election.

McConnell said the full Senate’s first order of business when it returns on Monday would be to vote on a targeted, $500 billion relief bill. It would include more money for the Paycheck Protection Program, which has helped small businesses pay employees during the pandemic.

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McConnell said the bill would include help for schools and liability protections for businesses, which Republicans sought. McConnell also said there would be more unemployment benefits and assistance for hospitals in the bill, but did not give specifics.

“I want to give our friends on the other side one more chance to do highly targeted relief that the country desperately needs,” McConnell said in Barbourville, Kentucky.

Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have repeatedly rejected targeted aid proposals, preferring to do comprehensive bills that also include large sums of money for state and local governments whose budgets have been slammed by the pandemic.

In recent days, Democratic leaders have refused a White House offer for a $1.8 trillion coronavirus relief package that moved closer to Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion proposal.

Pelosi, who last week was negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on a possible aid package, on Tuesday laid out what Democrats view as the shortcomings of the $1.8 trillion White House proposal, which also met resistance from Republicans in the U.S. Senate who say it is too large.

Pelosi said she remained hopeful for a deal and appeared to leave the door open to additional talks.

“I don’t think our leverage has ever been greater than it is now,” she said in a conference call with Democrats on Tuesday, according to a source on the call.

She is under pressure to reach agreement from moderate Democrats facing the voters in districts that could go either way in the election.

One progressive Democrat, Representative Ro Khanna, has also urged Pelosi to take the $1.8 trillion offer instead of waiting until next year, when Democrats may control the Senate and the White House.

“People in need can’t wait until February. 1.8 trillion is significant … Make a deal & put the ball in McConnell court,” Khanna wrote recently on Twitter.

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