McConnell sets Senate vote on coronavirus aid, Pelosi spurns White House bid

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the Republican-led U.S. Senate would vote next week on a targeted, $500 billion coronavirus economic aid bill of the type Democrats already have rejected as they hold out for trillions in relief.

With negotiations on a broader package stalled and Election Day approaching, both 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. With leaders of the Democratic-run House and Republican Senate still sparring, 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 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 last week that there would be no aid package before the election.

In recent days, Pelosi has refused a White House offer for a $1.8 trillion coronavirus aid package even though it moved closer to her $2.2 trillion proposal – and despite mounting pressure from some members of her own Democratic caucus who would like to see a compromise.

Pelosi angrily defended her stance Tuesday when a CNN interviewer asked her to respond to a progressive Democrat, Representative Ro Khanna, who had urged her to accept the White House proposal instead of waiting until February next year, when Democrats may also control the Senate and the White House.

“Nobody’s waiting till February. I want this very much now, because people need help now. But it’s no use giving them a false thing just because the president wants to put a check with his name on it in the mail,” she told CNN.

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

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.

“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.

But Senate Democrats blocked a similar proposal last month. Democrats 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.

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.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Editing by Grant McCool, Bill Berkrot and Tom Brown)

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