Another 'skinny' relief bill on tap in Senate

David Lerman CQ-Roll Call (TNS)
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2020.

WASHINGTON - The Senate will vote next week on a "targeted" COVID-19 relief package that includes more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday.

The decision to push another "skinny" relief bill marked a new attempt to jump-start negotiations that have been stalled for months over the size and shape of the next round of economic aid for the pandemic.

A $1.8 trillion relief offer last week from the Trump administration landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, as House Democrats said it was too small and Senate Republicans said it was too big.

But there was little reason to think that the upcoming legislation pushed by McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, stands any real chance of becoming law. And the strategy of going narrow and "targeted," as McConnell put it, appeared to contradict President Donald Trump's own intentions.

"STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!" the president tweeted, within minutes of McConnell's announcement.

In pushing for another small package, McConnell blamed Democrats for holding up larger-scale relief.

"Republicans do not agree that nothing is better than something for working families," he said in a statement. "The American people need Democrats to stop blocking bipartisan funding and let us replenish the PPP before more Americans lose their jobs needlessly."

McConnell said the Senate would have time to vote on a new aid bill when it reconvenes next week, even as it prepares to take up the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee.

"Unless Democrats block this aid for workers, we will have time to pass it before we proceed as planned to the pending Supreme Court nomination as soon as it is reported by the Judiciary Committee," he said.

The full contours of the Senate GOP's upcoming bill were not yet clear. McConnell said only that it would provide "targeted relief for American workers, including new funding for the PPP."

The Paycheck Protection Program, first created in March, provides forgivable loans to small businesses that keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic. FiscalNote, the parent company of CQ Roll Call, received a loan under the program.

Trump has pushed specifically for that program in recent weeks, along with a new round of tax rebates and $25 billion in additional aid for the pandemic-battered airline industry.

House Democrats have sought at least $2.2 trillion in aid. A bill they passed in May over Republican opposition would provide a total of $2.6 trillion in aid with a net cost of $2.2 trillion after accounting for offsetting tax increases and rescission of unused PPP funds.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., outlined a host of concerns with the latest $1.8 trillion White House proposal in a flurry of letters to her caucus in recent days.

"Tragically, the Trump proposal falls significantly short of what this pandemic and deep recession demand," she wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers released Tuesday. She has pushed for more money for state and local governments, more detailed plans for vaccine testing and tracing, more rental assistance, and expanded tax credits for low-income families, among other things.

Senate Republicans last month backed a smaller package with a net cost of $300 billion after offsetting more than half of the measure by rescinding unused PPP funds and appropriations to backstop Federal Reserve lending facilities. But it got no Democratic support and couldn't get over the 60-vote threshold to end debate.