Fact Check: Did GOP Senators 'Consistently' Back Stimulus Similar to What Congress Passed?

After nearly nine long months of partisan bickering over coronavirus relief, Congress overcame their stalemate Monday night and passed a $900 billion bipartisan stimulus package.

But as the dust settles and both sides play the blame game over who was responsible for the delay, a new favorite claim has emerged from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his top aides that pandemic relief would have reached millions of struggling Americans months ago—if only Democrats could have accepted an offer that's been on the table all along.

"Democrats blocked COVID relief for months, holding out for a bloated left-wing wish list, yet ended up embracing a bill 'exactly within the ballpark' of the Senate Republican proposal from July," McConnell's office has said.

The Claim

"As far back as July, and all autumn, Republicans have consistently supported a targeted package right in the ballpark of this total amount, with the same kinds of policies in the mix," the Kentucky Republican said on the floor over the weekend. "The package that will shortly become law falls exactly within the ballpark of what Senate Republicans have been proposing and trying to pass since last summer."

"What ballpark is that?" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) later questioned at a press conference, flanked by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Facts

McConnell unveiled what he dubbed the HEALS Act in July, a $1 trillion proposal crafted by Senate GOP leadership in consultation with the White House. It was meant to act as a starting place for negotiations with Democrats on another relief package, as House Democrats already had drafted and passed their HEROES Act worth more than $3 trillion.

The overall price tag and details of the HEALS Act vs. the $900 billion bill Congress just passed mirror one another: both have direct payments, supplemental unemployment insurance, small-business loans and money for education, testing and vaccines. In fact, the HEALS Act included $1,200 checks vs. the $600 payments Americans have headed their way.

The HEALS Act excluded measures like rental assistance and had $100 less per week for unemployment insurance.

It is true Democratic leaders immediately rejected the proposal at the time as "totally inadequate."

However, many of McConnell's own members were just as quick to shoot down the plan, too. Because of GOP opposition, the HEALS Act never received a vote. For many Republican senators, the $1 trillion price tag simply caused too much heartburn for them to support.

Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks to the Senate Floor at the U.S. Capitol on December 21 in Washington, D.C. The House and Senate passed a roughly $900 billion pandemic relief bill to bolster the U.S. economy amid the continued coronavirus pandemic that was the second-biggest economic rescue measure in the nation's history. Photo by Cheriss May/Getty

At the time, Senator John Kennedy (R-La.) described the sentiment among he and his GOP colleagues as having "unity in disagreement." Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the proposal "a mess," Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he was "not for authorizing any new spending," Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) labeled it "a mistake" and Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) suggested the cost was a "deal breaker for many of us, regardless of the content."

The dissent among Republicans led McConnell to shift his focus toward a far slimmer proposal in September, worth roughly $500 billion, that could unite more of his members. It included $300 weekly jobless benefits, liability protections, more PPP loans, education money and funding for testing and vaccines.

Though it would be slightly altered over time, this is the offer that McConnell spent months advocating for, not the HEALS Act.

Despite the lack of bipartisan support, McConnell tried to advance the pared back $500 billion legislation twice in the upper chamber. Democrats blocked it both times.

The Ruling

Half true.

While the merits of the HEALS Act and the approved stimulus are similar, the circumstances surrounding each of them has been distorted by McConnell and his office.

The HEALS Act received minimal support, even among McConnell's own members. In addition, the Senate leader has spent the crux of the time since then pushing for a scaled-down measure worth $500 billion—roughly half the size of the stimulus Congress passed Monday.

The suggestion that the HEALS Act was a politically viable option that Senate Republicans have long advocated for is misleading at best.

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