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Senate Fails To Advance Slimmed Down COVID-19 Relief Bill

The latest effort to pass another coronavirus relief package failed to muster enough votes to advance in the Senate, raising doubts as to whether there will be any stimulus legislation passed at all before the election.

The $300 billion package included $300 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits as well as money for COVID-19 testing, along with funds for schools as they grapple with trying to reopen during the crisis.

But the proposal fell short of the $1 trillion package that Republicans proposed during the summer, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, under pressure to find consensus among members of his party, sought a new approach with a slimmed down bill. On Thursday, 52 Republicans voted to advance the legislation, but they need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. All Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against the legislation.

Democrats have been seeking a much larger package that includes money for states and local governments, which are facing large budget shortfalls, and more money for schools and for health services. The House passed a $3 trillion package in May that extended the $600-per-week in enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of January. But since then, negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have stalled.

The entertainment industry has been looking for an array of relief measures in the next coronavirus bill. At the top of the list has been an extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits which, unlike traditional jobless relief, covered independent contractors, freelancers and gig workers. Movie theaters and live entertainment venues have been pushing for an expansion of a loan program which would cover small and medium sized businesses, with a special focus on revenue losses. Local media, like newspapers and Tv stations, have been seeking language to cover a wider range of outlets under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Before Thursday’s vote, McConnell said that the $3 trillion House bill was “unserious” and “absurd,” and said that “working families have suffered and waited and wondered whether Washington Democrats really care more about hurting President Trump than helping them through this crisis.”

Schumer, however, said that the legislation was filled with “poison pills” and was “designed to fail.”

“The Republican leader himself talked about the lack of urgency in his caucus to address the problem. So the idea that Democrats, who passed a comprehensive relief package through the House nearly four months ago are the cause of delay and obstruction is ridiculous. It’s been the Republicans all along.”

Schumer on Wednesday signed on to a bill that has bipartisan support: The Save Our Stages Act, which would create a $10 billion Small Business Administration program to help live venue operators, producers, promoters and talent representatives offset operating expenses. But it was not part of the Senate legislation.

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