Lawmakers continue to bicker over coronavirus relief bill amid calls from Mike Pence to ‘step up’ and pass it

Lawmakers continued to bicker on the final details of a massive, $2 trillion coronavirus bill Wednesday evening, Reuters reported, two days after Vice President Mike Pence called on Democrats to “step up” and pass a bill with Republicans.

“What I can tell you is that it is time for Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives to step up, reach an agreement, and pass the CARE Act,” Pence told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday. “This really is a moment where the American people want to see the Congress come together.”

“You can’t afford to do that”

The mild-mannered vice president’s pointed rebuke came as Democrats rejected the Senate bill in two consecutive votes earlier this week. Democrats had called the GOP’s version a handout for corporations that would stiff working Americans, but Republicans fired back that Democrats were trying to use the stimulus bill as a Trojan Horse for liberal policy items.

Following days of furious talks, the parties reached a shaky bipartisan agreement early Wednesday and vowed to hold a vote in the morning, The Hill reported. However, debate was reignited over the course of the day as senators fought over the bill’s provisions for unemployment insurance, leaving a final vote in doubt before day’s end, according to CNBC.

A group of Republican senators, led by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), complained that the bill’s unemployment benefits — $600 per week for four months — were too generous and would encourage joblessness.

“Let’s just make sure we make people whole. Let’s not increase their salary, because you can’t afford to do that,” Graham told reporters, according to CNBC.

As of Wednesday evening, the bill was expected to include, among other things: one-time checks for Americans making less than $75,000 a year, including $1,200 checks for American single adults, $2,400 for married couples and $500 for children, hundreds of billions in loans and loan guarantees to prop up businesses large and small, and billions to support hospitals and state and local governments, Axios reported.

Weathering the storm

Democrats have routinely assailed the Republicans’ proposal as a “slush fund” for big corporations that does not include enough oversight of corporate bailouts. Against Republican objections about unemployment insurance, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pressed his own grievances about the bill’s supposed “corporate welfare,” USA Today noted.

“Unless these Republican senators drop their objections, I am prepared to put a hold on this bill until stronger conditions are imposed on the $500 billion corporate welfare fund,” Sanders said in a statement Wednesday. “In my view, it would be an outrage to prevent working-class Americans to receive the emergency unemployment assistance included in this legislation.”

The bill must also still pass the House of Representatives, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who proposed a much-maligned stimulus bill Monday, would not commit to a yes vote Wednesday. “We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters, according to Reuters.

President Donald Trump, for his part, has called on Congress to pass a bill as soon as possible, indicating that he will sign it when it’s ready. Pence, echoing the president, told Hannity on Monday that the president is eager to deliver help to Americans struggling through the crisis.

“My hope, and I think the president’s hope, is that we’ll work out the final details, we’ll get this thing on the floor, we’ll speed relief to the American people and the bill will stay focused right where it should be,” Pence said, according to Fox. “And that is on helping working Americans, families, businesses across this country, weather the storm of the coronavirus.”

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