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Amid GOP divisions, McConnell sets stage for showdown stimulus vote with Democrats

Amid GOP divisions, McConnell sets stage for showdown stimulus vote with Democrats

Ahead of the Senate’s return Tuesday from its August recess, McConnell announced plans to unveil the new GOP bill and take the procedural steps needed to set up a vote “as soon as this week.” Moving quickly to set up a vote could avoid a repeat of the intraparty squabbling that dominated the July session when Republicans bickered for days before the GOP leader ultimately introduced a $1 trillion Republican plan that never came to the floor for a vote.

But with the coronavirus pandemic and the impact on the economy still dominating the concerns of voters, McConnell and GOP senators have spent the month of August in private discussions trying to find unity behind a plan roughly half the size of their last proposal. Yet there are still several members threatening to vote against the emerging proposal as they push GOP leaders to include their ideas into the plan.

“I will be moving immediately today to set up a floor vote as soon as this week,” McConnell said in a Tuesday statement.

The move amounts to a gamble for the Senate GOP leader, given that Republicans privately concede they are still short of the 51 votes they are seeking in order to bolster their election-year argument against the Democrats, who pushed a $3 trillion-plus plan through the House in May.

If McConnell’s new measure falls short of 51 votes, it is bound to feed Democratic attacks that the GOP remains in disarray over new economic relief measures with millions out of work and just weeks ahead of a hugely consequential election with control of the Senate at stake.

But even if the bill wins over 51 GOP senators, it will still fall far short of the 60 votes needed to break a Democratic filibuster, meaning the impasse over a new round of stimulus will persist amid months of bitter partisan bickering.

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“It does not contain every idea our party likes,” McConnell said of the new plan. “I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation.”

The bill is expected to include aid for schools, small businesses, the US Postal Service and an extension of jobless benefits at $300 a week, down from the $600 in weekly benefits that expired in July. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called the plan “emaciated,” and has joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to back at least $2.2 trillion for a new stimulus, a price tag the White House and McConnell have rejected.

The White House is keenly interested in trying to secure the necessary votes as well. Over the weekend, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows spoke with GOP senators by phone to hear out their concerns, sources said. And some pushed their preferred ideas, including Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican who wants the plan to include refundable tax credits for parents who homeschool their children, according to a person familiar with the matter.

But once the GOP bill stalls, it’s an open question whether any of the proposals will be added to a government funding bill to keep federal agencies open past this month. Both Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are trying to keep the measure “clean” — or free of extraneous proposals — but they are bound to face pressure to add more economic relief to what could be the final bill signed into law before the November elections.

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