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GOP senator: No recess without coronavirus aid package

Gardner's move to block adjournment may be symbolic, but represents rare break with leaders

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., says he’ll block the chamber from recessing for next week’s Memorial Day break to protest inaction on another round of coronavirus relief legislation.

“This is no time to go home,” Gardner told reporters Wednesday. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we get this job done.”

That includes objecting to a unanimous consent agreement to close up shop for recess after votes Thursday, Gardner said.

However, even if Gardner digs in, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., still controls the floor schedule. Any such objection may have little effect beyond forcing a skeleton crew of senators and aides to remain at the Capitol next week, conducting little legislative business.

Still, such open rebellion in the GOP ranks is unusual and demonstrates the pain senators are hearing from their constituents. Colorado’s legislature will be in session next week debating how to close a $3.3 billion budget shortfall, for instance.

Gardner, considered one of the most at-risk Republicans as he will likely face off against popular former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in November, unleashed a tweetstorm earlier Thursday calling on the Senate to stay in session.

“Anyone who thinks now is the time to go on recess hasn’t been listening. Coloradans and Americans alike have sacrificed and are hurting,” wrote Gardner, who reeled off a list of proposals he said were critical to act on, from $500 billion in additional state and local government aid to loosening regulations on banks that want to work with cannabis businesses.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales moved Gardner’s race rating to Tilt Democratic last month, making his the only GOP seat currently projected to flip in November.

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Relief talks on ‘pause’

The Senate has been in Washington for nearly three weeks processing nominations and passing legislation to reauthorize lapsed Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities. 

During that time, Senate committees held hearings on various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but leaders opted not to begin talks with Democrats on a new aid package to address the ongoing economic and health care crisis. 

McConnell, R-Ky., has said repeatedly he wants to “pause” to assess the effectiveness of previous relief packages, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will inject $2.8 trillion into the U.S. economy this year and next.

“We still believe with regard to the coronavirus, we need to assess what we’ve already done, take a look at what worked and what didn’t, and we’ll discuss the way forward in the next couple weeks,” McConnell said Tuesday following a lunch with President Donald Trump and other Senate GOP lawmakers.

House Democratic leaders decided not to wait, instead passing a $3 trillion bill last week, mostly along party lines. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Wednesday that Democrats will vote on a standalone bill next week that would make changes to the so-called Payroll Protection Program for small businesses sought by restaurants, hotels and others.

That measure would, among other things, waive a requirement that businesses spend 75 percent of loan funds on payroll in order to get their debts forgiven. Gardner supports that fix, which would help businesses that haven’t been able to reopen or rehire staff, but still have fixed costs like rent and utility bills.

FiscalNote, parent company of CQ Roll Call, has received a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program.

Maine’s Susan Collins, whom Inside Elections moved to a Tossup race rating last month, said Wednesday she agrees with Gardner about remaining in session to work on aid legislation.

Earlier this week, Collins announced she would cosponsor a bipartisan bill to provide $500 billion in additional aid to state and local governments, including the smallest communities that were left out of funding appropriated in the massive March aid package.

“Congress must act now to protect vital services and to prevent widespread furloughs of state and local public servants, including police, firefighters, medical professionals, and educators,” Collins said in a statement.

Support for more fiscal relief is growing among Republicans across the country, regardless of their electoral prospects.

Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., are the other Republican co-sponsors on that bill. Both of their seats are rated Solid Republican in November, according to Inside Elections.

During a floor speech Wednesday, Cassidy said his home state, which Trump won by almost 20 points in 2016, is suffering from a steep loss of revenue from depressed tourism, oil and gas and other activity important to Louisiana’s economy.

“This is about helping cities and states preserve essential services — such as police, fire, education — for the reopening of our economy,” Cassidy said. 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, isn’t necessarily in the camp that additional state and local aid is needed now, although he supports flexibility in letting states use their existing funds from the March aid package. He also doesn’t believe action is a must before the Memorial Day recess.

But Portman says the GOP should articulate what their approach to the next relief package will be, rather than let it be defined by Democrats as callous inaction. “I think we need to start talking more about that,” he said. Portman said he supports, for instance, a “back to work bonus” of $450 per week for individuals on top of their regular salary when they are rehired, as opposed to extending the $600 added weekly unemployment insurance benefit as the House bill would.

Portman and other Republicans argue the $600 added unemployment benefit makes it harder for businesses to rehire once they reopen, given in many states laid-off workers can earn more from those benefits than from the salaries they’d make by going back to work.

“People want to go back to work. We shouldn’t be putting impediments in the way and I think that’s what the House bill does,” Portman said.

Niels Lesniewski and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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