Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is taking an aggressive stand against Senate Republican leadership over a $1 trillion fourth coronavirus relief package announced earlier this week, telling Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he plans on voting “no” on the deal.
McConnell is pressing the Senate GOP to pass some sort of relief package this week before aid provisions included in the third coronavirus relief package that passed in early April — particularly a $600 federal unemployment “enhancement” — are set to expire. A fresh bill would trigger negotiations with Democrats, who back a $3 trillion bill passed by the House in May.
With just three weeks left until Congress goes on summer recess, leadership is reportedly feeling the heat, according to The Washington Post, and McConnell wants big-name Republicans on board. The Senate GOP held a lunch on Wednesday designed to whip senators behind a draft bill.
The problem, Cruz and others reportedly noted, is that the United States does not seem prepared to spend yet another trillion dollars on a relief package, and it’s not clear yet whether the already shaky economy can withstand another massive federal handout.
The White House also has a wish list for the bill. President Donald Trump wants the package to include a payroll tax cut, but the Trump administration has yet to endorse Republican demands for funding for COVID-19 testing sites and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“McConnell, in a floor speech earlier in the day, outlined key components expected to be in the GOP plan, including $105 billion for schools, a second round of targeted funding for the forgivable small business loan program, another round of direct payments and liability protections for businesses, hospitals, health care workers and schools,” CNN reported. “It’s a proposal a large portion of the Republican conference is eager to get behind, but several key components remain under discussion with the White House.”
Cruz fired back at leadership during the meeting.
“At lunch today I asked my Republican colleagues, ‘What in the hell are we doing?'” Cruz told CNN. “We’ll see where this ends up, we still don’t know the details of this initial proposal.
“As it’s written right now,” the Texas Republican added, “I’m not only a no, I’m a hell no.”
“Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY),” CNN added, “expressed similar sentiments when he left the lunch early, underscoring the shift in dynamics among Republican senators since the initial $2.2 trillion package was passed unanimously in March.”
McConnell downplayed issues dividing his caucus. The bill, he told reporters “enjoys fairly significant support among Republican senators.” But, he added “not everyone” is ready to vote yes.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who is working directly with McConnell on the project, remained hopeful on getting a majority of senators behind the bill, but did seem to indicate there would be an extended timeline for approval.
“We’re going to try to get something done by the end of next week,” Mnuchin said. “That’s the time frame because we want to get something done before the unemployment insurance expires. This is a process.”