Democrats Again Block Action on Coronavirus Stimulus, Seeking Restrictions on Corporate Aid

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Monday again blocked action on a nearly $2 trillion economic rescue measure to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, insisting on stronger protections for workers and restrictions for bailed-out businesses as they rushed to reach a deal with the Trump administration.

The normally staid Senate dissolved into shouting and partisan bickering before the vote, as senators sparred over the huge government rescue package. Republicans blasted Democrats for delaying desperately needed economic aid, while Democrats said the measure under discussion did too little to help ordinary Americans and ensure that federal money would not be abused by businesses that received aid.

“Are you kidding me?” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, demanded on the Senate floor. “This is not a juicy political opportunity. This is a national emergency.”

The extraordinary scene unfolded the day after Democrats first blocked action on the measure, which is emerging as the largest economic stimulus measure in modern history. The 47-47 vote on Sunday evening shook markets around the globe and infuriated Republicans who said it ignored bipartisan talks that had yielded substantial compromises over the outlines of the measure.

The outcome was similar on Monday, as the Senate voted 49-46, falling short of the 60 votes that would have been needed to go forward on the rescue measure. Republicans insisted on holding the vote in the absence of an agreement, seizing an opportunity to portray Democrats as obstacles to a deal.

The defeat and the testy exchanges overshadowed an urgent set of negotiations that continued behind the scenes between Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, to iron out remaining differences.

“We Democrats are trying to get things done, not making partisan speech after partisan speech,” said Mr. Schumer on the Senate floor, pointing out he had met repeatedly with Mr. Mnuchin and Eric M. Ueland, the White House legislative affairs director, over the last 24 hours. “Our goal is to reach a deal today, and we are hopeful, even confident, that we will meet that goal.”

Mr. Mnuchin declined to provide specifics, but said the two sides were “very close” to a deal. “We are knocking down the issues,” he said. “We have been working all morning, and we are not leaving until we have a deal.”

At the heart of the impasse in the Senate is a $425 billion fund created by the bill that the Federal Reserve could leverage for loans to assist broad groups of distressed companies, and an additional $75 billion it would provide for industry-specific loans. Democrats have raised concerns that the funds do not have rules for transparency or enough guardrails to make sure companies do not use the funds to enrich themselves or take government money and lay off workers. They also argue the measure would give Mr. Mnuchin too much discretion to decide which companies receive the funds, calling the proposal a “slush fund” for the administration.

As the legislation is currently written, Mr. Mnuchin would not have to disclose the recipients until six months after the loans were disbursed. Some Democrats also said the legislation as written could allow Mr. Trump’s real estate empire to take advantage of the federal aid.

Democrats are also pushing for more jobless aid and money for states as part of the agreement.

“Let’s be clear about what we are talking about here: We don’t think your bill works,” said Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. “This is a policy disagreement, and I have an obligation as a representative of my state to stand up and say when I don’t think a $2 trillion bill is going to solve the problem.”

Only one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, joined Republicans in voting to advance the package.

The debate beforehand was unusually fiery, escalating as Mr. Schumer repeatedly cut off attempts by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, to be recognized to speak.

“This is unbelievable,” Ms. Collins fumed, as other Republicans pushed to allow her to weigh in. She walked over to Mr. Schumer, pointing at him, and said: “You are objecting to my speaking? This is appalling.”

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, muttering audibly, used a barnyard epithet to express his assessment of the situation.

When Ms. Collins did get time to speak, she warned that time was running out to preserve small businesses in her state and across the country teetering on the bring of collapse.

“We don’t have another day. We don’t have another hour. We don’t have another minute to delay acting,” she said. “This is disgraceful.”

Mr. McConnell later returned the favor, albeit more gently, cutting off Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, as he spoke. Mr. McConnell suggested that Mr. Manchin and the Democrats either misunderstood or were misrepresenting Senate procedure to needlessly slow down debate.

“We can’t even get on the bill,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking Republican said, turning to the Democratic side of the chamber. “The country is burning, and your side wants to play political games.”

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California was expected to unveil her own rescue package, although it remains unclear how that would be reconciled with any compromise legislation that emerges from the Senate negotiations.

“The Senate Republicans’ bill, as presented, put corporations first, not workers and families,” Ms. Pelosi said in a statement, adding that the House Democrats’ bill “takes responsibility for the health, wages and well-being of America’s workers.”

The bill, according to a summary provided Ms. Pelosi’s office, includes a national requirement for both 15 days of early voting and no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail and election security funding — something Senate Republicans dismissed as irrelevant to the debate at hand — and nearly $40 billion for schools and universities, coupled with free coronavirus treatment and expanded paid leave.

Mr. McConnell and other Republicans have blamed Ms. Pelosi, who returned to Washington from San Francisco on Saturday to partake in a leadership meeting, for upending a productive set of bipartisan negotiations. But Ms. Pelosi has repeatedly been in engaged in phone calls with Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Schumer, and dispatched her top staff to work in tandem with top Democratic staff in the Senate.

Senate Republicans and Democrats have already struck a number of major compromises on the package, including tentative agreement on sending $1,200 government payments to those earning up to $75,000 a year, with an additional $500 per child, with smaller checks for those earning more and an upper eligibility limit of $99,000 in income.

But Democrats are pushing to strengthen worker protections, arguing that the draft legislation fails to prevent layoffs, and enforce heavier restrictions on executive compensation and companies’ ability to buy back stock. Led by Mr. Schumer, they are also calling for an additional hundreds of billions of dollars to support hospitals struggling to care for the thousands infected by the virus and more funds to send to individual states to help them combat the outbreak and the economic turmoil of having to close businesses and cities.

Democrats are also pressing to extend jobless benefits in the legislation for an additional month. Republicans have already agreed to a large expansion of the unemployment insurance program, broadening it to include self-employed and part-time workers who traditionally have not been eligible, and to cover 100 percent of wages for three months.

There is also disagreement, according to two people familiar with the negotiations, but unauthorized to discuss them publicly, over how much money to allocate to farmers.

“This bill is going to affect this country and the lives of Americans — not just for the next few days, but in the next few months and years,” Mr. Schumer said Sunday evening, “so we have to make sure it is good.”

Incensed by the 47-to-47 party-line vote on Sunday, which failed to meet the 60 votes needed to move forward on the measure, Republicans have accused Democrats of reneging on days of bipartisan negotiations and belatedly pressing for additions that are unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak.

A senior Republican aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose details of the private negotiations, pointed to efforts to expand collective bargaining rights for unions and implement increased fuel emission standards for airlines and expand wind and solar tax credits as examples.

Senate Republicans are also short on members, after Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky tested positive on Sunday for the coronavirus, prompting two other Republicans who had contact with him — Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee of Utah — to isolate themselves. Mr. Paul, who voted against the $8.3 billion in emergency aid and a second package to provide paid leave, jobless aid, and food and health care assistance, had remained in the Capitol until Sunday, when he learned of his diagnosis.

A sign taped to the Republican side of the clerk’s desk read: “SOCIAL DISTANCE” in block letters with “please & thank you” written in cursive font underneath.

Two other Republican senators, Rick Scott of Florida and Cory Gardner of Colorado, had already been in isolation.