WASHINGTON -- Saying aid to hard-hit businesses shouldn't be held up by gridlock involving other aid proposals, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Tuesday that the Senate will take up a narrow economic relief bill when it returns next week.
President Donald Trump immediately wrote on Twitter: "STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!"
Senate Republicans have balked at a $1.8 trillion relief package Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has offered to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Trump, though, has suggested Republicans should agree to an even bigger deal than what Democrats have offered.
Pelosi has rejected Mnuchin's offer as inadequate, criticism she repeated Tuesday in a letter to House Democrats in which she wrote, "Tragically, the Trump proposal falls significantly short of what this pandemic and deep recession demand."
"A fly on the wall or wherever else it might land in the Oval Office tells me that the President only wants his name on a check to go out before Election Day and for the market to go up," Pelosi wrote. "The American people want us to have an agreement to protect lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy. Democrats are determined to do so!"
Pelosi later convened a conference call with House Democrats in which she and her top committee chairmen took turns criticizing the proposal, according to several people on the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it.
"Democrats have spent months blocking policies they do not even oppose. They say anything short of their multi-trillion-dollar wish list, jammed with non-covid-related demands, is 'piecemeal' and not worth doing," McConnell said in a statement. "And she [Pelosi] has worked hard to ensure that nothing is what American families get."
The developments reinforced the vanishing prospects for any kind of relief legislation to pass before the election, even though Pelosi and Mnuchin are continuing to negotiate.
McConnell is trying again to pass a much more limited proposal, something he attempted last month. Democrats blocked it at the time and may do so again with the new bill, which seems like it will be similar to the last one.
The new bill will cost about $500 billion and include provisions to extend enhanced unemployment insurance and the small-business Paycheck Protection Program, as well as money for hospitals and schools, among other provisions.
McConnell discussed it at an event Tuesday in Kentucky, where he is campaigning for reelection.
Although McConnell is not considered vulnerable in his race, he has come under criticism from his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, for Congress' failure to enact new relief legislation since the spring, when lawmakers rushed through four bipartisan bills totaling about $3 trillion.
At a debate Monday night, McGrath accused McConnell of an "absolute dereliction of duty" for not passing a new relief bill even as he jams through a Supreme Court nomination. McConnell blamed Democrats for the inaction, saying Pelosi does not really want a deal.
"The point is why can't we sensibly come together and agree to go after what the actual needs are? And that's what my bill is designed to do," McConnell said Tuesday.
"The choice is do you want to do something or nothing. So far they have said if we can't do everything we want to do we won't do anything," McConnell said. "That doesn't solve the problem."
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had no immediate comment on what Democrats would do. Democrats blocked the slimmed-down package McConnell tried to advance last month, calling it woefully inadequate because it omitted provisions like new $1,200 stimulus checks.
Even if it were to advance to pass the Senate such legislation would face almost certain death in the House.
The White House's messaging on economic relief plans has become muddied in recent days. Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have recently said Congress should at least approve a smaller-scale deal, similar to what McConnell appears to now be pursuing.
But Trump has consistently called for a giant package, saying last week that he wanted more new spending than even the $2.2 trillion package that Democrats had sought so far.
Still, a Senate vote on a targeted relief package could put some Democrats in the uncomfortable position of voting against financial aid that has wide bipartisan support. More than a dozen moderate Democrats in the House have suggested support for a Republican-led plan could force a floor vote on a stand-alone paycheck-protection bill, but that effort may not have enough votes to succeed.
Some economists and business leaders have expressed alarm about the costs of the logjam in Congress, with major airline carriers, restaurants, and hotels facing steep cuts and layoffs without additional federal aid.
Congress allowed a $600-per-week federal unemployment enhanced benefit for millions to expire at the end of July, though an executive action by the president provided short-term relief of $300 per week to unemployed people in most states on top of what they were receiving in state benefits. The funding created by the executive order is mostly spent, said Michele Evermore, a national unemployment expert at the National Employment Law Project.
"There are millions of people in a desperate position right now," Evermore said. "And without further action, this economic pain will spill out into the community."
House Democrats have almost uniformly backed Pelosi's approach to negotiations with the White House. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has called for Democrats to approve an agreement if the White House approves Democrats' testing strategy, but so far has been largely a lone voice.
"What I hear from Sen. McConnell is once again take a little piece and be satisfied. What I hear from the president just the opposite," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "Can the two of them sit down and agree? Wouldn't that be a breakthrough?"
Some Democrats are convinced that former Vice President Joe Biden is poised to reclaim the White House and have been pressuring Pelosi to strike a less ambitious deal that would deliver aid now rather than letting the economy continue to struggle without help until next year. Pelosi's response was to gather statements from a host of committee chairmen criticizing the administration's latest offer.
"If Congress doesn't act, the next president will inherit a real mess," said Harvard economist Jason Furman, a former top adviser to former President Barack Obama. "If the Mnuchin offer could be passed by the Senate -- which is a huge "if" -- that would be a lot better than waiting to get even more in January."
Information for this article was contributed by Jeff Stein and Erica Werner of The Washington Post; and by Andrew Taylor of The Associated Press.