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What’s holding up your stimulus check and relief for small businesses?

Less than a week after coming together to bolster the ailing economy, Congress has fallen back into partisan camps in a dispute over who should benefit from a massive bailout and what rules they should follow.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, center, accompanied by White House Legislative Affairs Director Eric Ueland, right, stops to speak to reporters as they walk to the offices of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 23, 2020, while the Senate is working to pass a coronavirus relief bill.
Andrew Harnick, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Less than a week after winning praise for working together, Congress has fallen into partisan camps, holding up a third economic stimulus package that includes financial aid for individuals and small businesses.

Reports dominated news sites Monday afternoon of the Senate devolving into shouting and bickering before Democrats blocked a second attempt to move to debating what is reportedly the largest economic stimulus measure in modern times at $1.8 trillion.

“Are you kidding me?” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said on the Senate floor, The New York Times reported. “This is not a juicy political opportunity, this is a national emergency.”

Similar sentiments were shared on social media by people on both sides of the isle.

Central to the package, according to The Associated Press, is up to $350 billion for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. There is also a one-time check of about $1,200 per person, or $3,000 for a family of four, as well as extended unemployment benefits. Hospitals would get about $110 billion for the expected influx of sick patients.

Caught in the middle are Americans waiting for individual checks that the White House said they hoped to distribute as early as the first week in April, the Deseret News reported on Thursday.

The negotiations are happening amid an economic meltdown set off by the coronavirus pandemic that has forced federal and state governments to enforce public safety measures that have dramatically curtailed consumer spending, forced employers to lay off workers and shut many businesses down.

“The Dow Jones industrial average has lost more than 10,000 points in six weeks, and several million Americans have already lost their jobs as the economy contracts in the face of the coronavirus outbreak,” The Washington Post reported. “Scores of companies have rushed to Washington seeking emergency assistance, and health care providers are overrun with the need for testing kits and safety equipment.

Some of the sticking points in the bill are who gets the bailout money — from individuals to large corporations — how it will be distributed and how it can be used. Democrats want more restrictions on how Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin can distribute the bailout funds and assurances the economic aid will get to those in need and not enrich big business.

“At the heart of the impasse 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,” the Times explained. “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.”

But Republicans argued Democrats are stalling the proposal to add extraneous provisions to the package that have nothing to do with the coronavirus outbreak, like fuel emission standards for airlines and wind and solar tax credits.

”Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses until they get to dust off the Green New Deal,” a visibly irritated McConnell said, Politico reported. “This has got to stop. And today is the day it has to stop. The country is out of time.”

Fox News reported that Republicans had fair warning of the Democrats’ demands. It cited a report last week in The Hill on a Democratic House caucus conference call, during which members discussed “a wish list” of items that would create a broader Phase Three stimulus bill than what was being proposed in the Senate.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told lawmakers, according to a source on the call.

Monday’s 49-46 vote fell far short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation for a final debate. And that threshold is even more difficult to reach with five GOP senators, including Utah’s Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, self-isolating because of exposure to the coronavirus and unable to vote.

Monday afternoon, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mnuchin insisted negotiations are ongoing and they hope to have a deal by the end of the day. But by early evening, it appeared an agreement was not imminent

”Well I think right now, things are stalled out. They could get kick-started, but my sense is that we’re not making a lot of progress today, so I assume we’re here tomorrow,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told Politico after a GOP leadership meeting.

A backdrop looming over lawmakers in both the House and Senate is the political fallout from the bipartisan bailout Congress passed in 2008 that effectively halted an economic recession but unleashed “a populist furor that lingers in both parties to this day,” the AP reported.

“Heads snap up pretty quickly when they remember how deeply angry the American people were about a no-strings bailout that rewarded executives and shareholders while families continued to suffer,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. She voted with Democrats to stall the relief package Monday.

Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, tapped into those frustrations to advance their political careers as did President Donald Trump, who also voiced concerns Sunday about how the bailout money should be used.

He wanted to ensure that any company that received public money couldn’t use it to buy back its stock and raise its value. The Senate bill includes a ban on stock buybacks that has been criticized as weak.

“I may be Republican but I don’t like that,” Trump said.

The AP also spoke to Stephen Moore, founder of the conservative Club for Growth and an economic adviser to the president, who cautioned White House and Congress to avoid the impression that the government is picking winners and losers as it authorizes money to struggling industries.

“Where do you stop with this?” he said. “If you’re going to pick the airlines, what about the oil companies, are you going to pick them? What about the movie theaters? What about the corner shop that’s closed down?”