Senate Democrats voted on Sunday to hold up progress on an enormous COVID-19 economic stimulus bill that includes emergency funding for healthcare providers, leaving the bill's future and timeline unclear.
Republicans on Sunday afternoon unveiled updated bill text after days of bipartisan negotiations. It includes a $75 billion provider reimbursement fund for COVID-19 related expenses; a two-year delay in cuts to Medicaid disproportionate-share hospital payments; $1.3 billion in emergency money and an 18-month funding extension for community health centers; suspension of the Medicare sequester; a hospital add-on payment for COVID-19 patients; $1 billion for purchases under the Defense Production Act; and $1.7 billion for the Strategic National Stockpile.
But Democrats insisted they still have several issues with the legislation, including what they view as lax conditions placed on aid to corporations. The motion needed 60 votes to pass, but Democrats united to defeat it 47-47. Negotiations are ongoing.
Republicans were incensed at Democrats' refusal to vote to advance even a legislative vehicle for a deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for blowing up negotiations Sunday morning.
"I want the American people to understand who's responsible for slowing this down," McConnell told reporters Sunday.
The urgency of passing legislation quickly heightened as public health concerns in the Capitol grew Sunday. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was the first senator to test positive for COVID-19 and Utah Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney were instructed to self-quarantine, slimming Republicans' majority.
Hospital groups, which had agitated for provider funding to be included in the economic stimulus bill, said they would have preferred more funding but liked the provisions that had been added between the Senate GOP's first and second draft.
"We're certainly grateful for the funding, but based on the very real needs of hospitals in New York and across the country, we think it should be higher. There's too much at stake to not get this right," said Greater New York Hospital Association spokesman Brian Conway.
Schumer also said he wanted more funding for providers than was included.
"The bill should include much more money for hospitals and community health centers, nursing homes, enough funding to address the coming shortages in masks, ICU beds, ventilators, testing and personal equipment," Schumer said on the Senate floor after Democrats blocked the procedural vote.
However, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) pushed back on Schumer's assertion, and said hospitals received an "unprecedented" amount of support.
Senate Republicans' revised legislative package included a number of funding extensions for Medicare and Medicaid programs that were set to expire on May 22, likely meaning a vehicle for major drug-pricing reform or banning surprise billing has evaporated. Neither major policy was included, and healthcare lobbyists and policy observers said prospects for reform appear grim if the policies are not included in this economic stimulus package.