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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) approaches the microphones to speak to members of the media after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at Hart Senate Office Building on September 9, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After 'Disgraceful' GOP Coronavirus Package Defeated, Progressives Demand McConnell 'Get Serious' About Relief

"Politicizing our lives for the benefit of partisanship is shameful and we are still demanding that Senate Republicans get back to work and pass legislation that actually matches the scope and size of the dual health and economic crises of this country," said the We Demand More Coalition.

Julia Conley

After Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's attempt to pass the so-called "skinny" coronavirus relief plan—prioritizing corporations over the health, safety, and livelihoods of working families—failed on Thursday, advocacy groups denounced the GOP and demanded the Senate "get serious" about providing relief to Americans.

Six months into the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis, Americans have seen only a single, means-tested $1,200 direct payment and a temporary $600 unemployment benefit, which the GOP allowed to expire in July before leaving Washington for Congress' August recess. 

"The American people are struggling to meet their basic needs and the cost of inaction will be deadly. In this critical moment, we need more help from the government—not less."
—100+ advocacy groups

The "skinny" bill required 60 votes to proceed to the Senate floor, and lawmakers voted 52-47 against the motion. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the only Republican who joined the Democratic Party in rejecting the bill.

The bill was condemned as "pathetic," "emaciated," and "insulting" by critics including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People's Campaign, respectively.

While McConnell prioritized the inclusion of liability protection for corporations whose employees or customers might become ill from the virus, the skinny bill did not include any direct relief for Americans and included only $300 in enhanced unemployment benefits.

Barber and other observers posited that McConnell never believed the bill would proceed to a final vote, but rather aimed to use the procedural vote as a re-election tool for Republicans in competitive races—as 13.6 million Americans face unemployment and about 10% of the population reports struggling to afford food.  

McConnell accused Democrats of offering "no help for American families before the election," only to be rebuked by progressive advocate Christine Pelosi:

"McConnell's political gamesmanship has been nothing but a roadblock to the substantive relief Americans need during the pandemic," said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of government watchdog Public Citizen. "Hopefully, the failure of his scaled-back bill will be followed by negotiations on a serious bill to provide meaningful funding to secure our elections, fund the U.S. Postal Service, ensure all people have access to vaccines, and fund our first responders and schools."

Gilbert and other progressives demanded that McConnell finally allow the Senate to debate the HEROES Act, the $3 trillion package passed by the Democratic-led House in May. The bill would reinstate the $600-per-week unemployment supplement, provide another round of $1,200 direct payments, and provide $1 trillion in aid for state and local governments. 

Amanda Ballantyne, executive director of the Main Street Alliance, lambasted McConnell for political theatrics that would do nothing to help struggling families and small business owners facing down financial ruin due to the pandemic and Republican obstruction.

"Small businesses do not need political showmanship that goes nowhere and ignores the desperate financial circumstances that millions of Americans are facing," said Ballantyne. "Had Senate GOP leadership really wanted to pass a relief bill, they absolutely had the power to negotiate a deal. What we saw today with the failed Senate vote was a dog and pony show for the election—ticking off a box to help buffer criticism of frontline GOP Senate candidates. It's just shocking when you consider the real need out there right now."

Negotiations over providing relief stalled before McConnell unveiled the skinny bill this week; he has derided the HEROES Act a "liberal wish list," but progressive groups on Thursday said that after the failure of his own proposal, the Kentucky Republican must consider real relief for Americans. 

"The 'skinny bill' was designed as a boon for corporate executives concerned with protecting themselves and their pockets rather than workers," said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US. "Now that the bill has failed, it's time for Congress to get serious about putting together a relief bill that prioritizes getting relief to struggling Americans and their families, not the wealthy and well-connected." 

More than 100 advocacy groups—including the Sunrise Movement, Amnesty International, People's Action, and United We Dream—released a list of demands for what they hope will be a return to the negotiating table for Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.

"Since its passage in March, the CARES Act has provided a lifeline to millions of people by keeping children fed, families in their homes, and small businesses afloat," the groups wrote in a letter to McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). "However, core protections under this law have since expired. The American people are struggling to meet their basic needs and the cost of inaction will be deadly. In this critical moment, we need more help from the government—not less."

The groups called for legislation including a nationwide moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shutoffs; an expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, access to universal Covid-19 testing, and other provisions. 

Separately, the We Demand More Coalition—including NARAL Pro-Choice America, Supermajority, and Paid Leave for All Action—called for "life-sustaining relief" and demanded that legislators "prioritize our health and safety ahead of corporations."

"With more than six million known cases of Covid-19 and a death toll of 190,000 and rising, Senate Republicans choose to do nothing," the coalition said. "Politicizing our lives for the benefit of partisanship is shameful and we are still demanding that Senate Republicans get back to work and pass legislation that actually matches the scope and size of the dual health and economic crises of this country." 

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