I read an article that said that the most recent COVID-19 relief bill was not passed because Democrats didn't think it was enough. The article is here: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/11/gops-coronavirus-bill-didnt-pass-these-programs-still-provide-relief.html and it said:

Congressional Democrats say the bill did not provide enough relief for financially-strapped Americans. They want a continuation of the extra $600 per week in unemployment insurance that the CARES Act provided, as well as money for housing relief and a second round of stimulus checks.

Why can't they pass the Republican bill and if turns out not to be enough pass another bill?


4 Answers 4


What makes you think they could simply "pass another one later"? They've already tried that and failed. They wanted a 4th piece of relief legislation back when both chambers quickly passed three pieces, and have passed more since (and tons of other non-covid bills as well). But the Senate basically acted like it (and all that other stuff) never existed. Why? Because the first three bills already did what the Senate Republicans wanted (or too much). So now they've zero reason to do anything else, and the Democrats and the House have zero bargaining chips and no leverage. Your plan would just make that worse: give Senate Republicans even more of what they want while never getting anything they want.

Furthermore, the so-called "skinny" relief was considered unconscionable non-relief to many Democrats: hundreds of millions in bail-outs for the coal industry, billions for the Pentagon, but scraps at best for unemployment, food assistance, healthcare, etc. for the actual people. This bill wasn't "getting at least something done" from their perspective, it was making everything they're fighting against worse and getting nothing in return.


It's really pretty simple: leverage.

Democrats want things in the next relief bill that Republicans don't. If the Democrats don't block a smaller bill that only does what Republicans want, once that smaller bill passes there's absolutely no incentive for Republicans to even negotiate on passing anything Democrats want.

This is a bog-standard legislative/political maneuver, played out across the world many, many times: "You get nothing you want unless you give me something we want."

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    This is sadly true to most politics, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum: virtue signaling is more important to them than actually solving problems. Hey, not solving problems is actually better, because then they will still have an issue to "heroically" fight against next time. A very similar event happened from the extreme right of the spectrum in Hungary: the center-right government wanted to impose limits on immigration. The left voted against it because they found them too strict, and the far right voted against it too, because they claimed it was not strict enough.
    – vsz
    Sep 14, 2020 at 8:12
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    I think in this particular case, it's not a Party maneuver, it's that one group is looking to get the most for our People, and one group is looking to do the least that it would take to let them declare victory. If you're a citizen of the United States, and somebody is standing up and declaring "No, that's not enough COVID-19 help for the People," who's side do you think the other group is really on? Sep 14, 2020 at 14:05
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    @vsz The Dems do have some evidence that the Republicans would refuse to consider any further negotiation after passing this, based on the Republicans already refusing to consider any negotiation at all on the bill the Dems passed on May and McConnell then literally ignored, refused to discuss, bring to vote, etc. Sep 14, 2020 at 17:53

Most of the attention has been focused on how small McConnell’s “Skinny Stimulus” is, relative to the bill the Democrats passed through the House back in May, but the core problem with the bill are the massive liability protections for corporations and health care providers. CNN provided a summary of the bill, and a comparison between this bill, the previous Republican effort, and the Democrat’s HEROES act:

Liability protections for employers

Would provide protections for employers against liability in any coronavirus-related lawsuits brought by workers. Employers would not be held liable unless workers' claims met a stringent test. ...

Liability protection for health care workers and facilities

Would protect health care providers from coronavirus-related liability actions unless the plaintiffs can prove gross negligence or willful misconduct.


By making it almost impossible for employees to hold companies accountable for unsafe working conditions, these provisions would encourage employers to reopen in unsafe ways and discourage them from spending money on worker protections. Aside from privileging corporations over workers, these measures would be counterproductive to controlling the spread of the virus and saving lives.

The liability shield for health care providers is particularly offensive as it has essentially the same effect as the liability protections for nursing homes which many, including Republicans who now support these protections in this bill, have attacked Governor Cuomo of New York (rightly, in my opinion) for implementing in the early days of the outbreak.

There are similar “poison pills” in other parts of the bill:

Education funding

Would provide $105 billion in education funds, about two-thirds of which would be reserved for schools that reopen for in-person instruction.

By tying the education funding to schools reopening for in-person instruction, this bill would pressure schools to reopen, even if they could not do so safely.

In exchange for these provisions which would endanger lives and hurt the ability to control the pandemic, the bill offers only $300/week in unemployment benefits, half the amount in the CARES act or the Democrat's HEROES act. There is no direct stimulus and no relief to states to fund public health or prevent massive deficits and budget cuts across the country, not just in “blue states”. State budget cuts were a major factor in deepening and extending the Great Recession, and a lack of aid to state and local governments will raise unemployment and worsen the current recession:

“It will hold back the economic recovery if they continue to lay people off and if they continue to cut essential services,” Mr. Powell said during congressional testimony in June. “In fact, that’s kind of what happened post the global financial crisis.”

The economic risks are not confined to blue states. Idaho, West Virginia and Alaska, all Republican-dominated states, also face acute budget shortfalls as a percentage of output, based on estimates from Mr. White and his colleagues at Moody’s Analytics.

“It will be a drag on G.D.P. growth at a time when the nation’s economy is attempting to recover,” Mr. Sigritz said.

State and Local Budget Pain Looms Over Economy’s Future


Why can't they pass the Republican bill and if turns out not to be enough pass another bill?

Multiple reasons, all of them political.

Large among them is the loss of leverage already described in other answers. If the Democrats cooperate in passing something containing most or all of what the Republicans want, even if the D's want many of those same things, too, then they have little or no leverage remaining to try to get things that they want but the Rs don't.

But it's nastier than that. If one supposes that what the Rs were offering contained many things that the Ds also wanted, then one might argue that the Democrats should take what they can get, or even offer to accept an even smaller version containing only things that both sides want. Surely something is better than nothing, right? I think this is one of the assumptions underlying the question. However, especially as we approach the national elections in a few weeks,

  • if a smaller bill is more satisfactory to the Republican base than it is to the Democrat base, or especially if it appeals more to swing voters, then it is not in the Dems' political interest to pass it, notwithstanding whatever benefits it would provide to those whom the Dems hope will support them;

  • the Dems are disinclined to agree to anything that could be characterized as a capitulation, as that would weaken their electoral prospects;

  • the Dems are particularly motivated to avoid undercutting their political position that the federal government's response to COVID under Trump's leadership has been inadequate. Even though executive action and legislation are separate considerations, the general public doesn't necessarily appreciate that, nor clearly recognize where to attribute different public actions or how to separate their effects;

  • more generally, the Dems would rather have dissatisfied voters going into the election than satisfied ones, even among their own base, as it improves the odds of people turning out to vote against the sitting president's party. And that's at least shrewd, for if they can manage to secure the White House then they will almost surely retain control of the House of Representatives, and they may swing the Senate, too. In that case, they would be able to get whatever they want next year, and not only on COVID.

None of that is to say that Republicans could be expected to behave differently if the situation were reversed. American politics is bitterly adversarial these days, worse than ever before in my memory.

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    This answer doesn’t make sense because the Democrats have been pushing for, and passed in the House, a much more significant stimulus bill for months. It’s The Republicans who have been have been stalling stimulus, while Democrats have been pushing for it, despite it likely helping Trump
    – divibisan
    Sep 13, 2020 at 16:40
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    I don't see how that conflicts with this answer, @divibisan. The question is about why the Dems blocked the (Republican-majority) Senate's COVID bill this past Thursday, despite, as you say, having been pushing a more far-reaching bill for some time. How does one explain why the Dems won't at least go forward with those things that both sides agree about? Only by looking at political factors, and nothing is bigger in the U.S. right now, politically, than the upcoming elections. Sep 13, 2020 at 18:13
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    That's not an analysis I'm prepared to make at this time, @Jontia, but it's the Dems themselves who are positioning it as "inadequate" as opposed to "the wrong things". Of course, that, too, may be politics. If the Dems in fact didn't want a single thing in the Rs' bill, then it probably wouldn't make them any friends to say that that's why the thwarted it. Sep 13, 2020 at 21:23
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    @JohnBollinger That’s not quite true, though. Pelosi and Schumer’s criticisms are that it’s both wholly inadequate and loaded with poison pills
    – divibisan
    Sep 13, 2020 at 22:18
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    The question is about political maneuvering around the bill, @CraigBrunetti, not about its merits. I do not presume to judge what all citizens should think of it, nor does it seem plausible that all citizens should or would have the same opinion of it. I daresay that it seems unlikely that the Rs would have introduced it and brought it to the point they did if they had reason to think that public opinion would be steeply sloped against it. Sep 14, 2020 at 15:42

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