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Senators return to Washington Tuesday with a slate of politically contentious objectives to check off just as the 2020 election season revs into high gear. While the stalemate continues on another COVID-19 relief package, other legislative priorities — primarily a stopgap government funding bill to avert a government shutdown — also loom large.

Lawmakers, bitterly divided over coronavirus spending, face a tremendous time crunch with just two weeks to break the logjam before they depart for the month of October to focus on the November election. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in press stops around Kentucky during the Senate recess, laid the groundwork for a politically difficult return, pointing to the upcoming election as the cause of Congress’ failure to find common ground on coronavirus relief before its exodus from Washington at the beginning of August.

“Regretfully as we’ve gotten closer and closer to the election, the degree of bipartisan cooperation has descended,” McConnell said at a local stop Wednesday. “And I can’t tell you for sure whether we’ll get another rescue package or not.”

After weeks of failed negotiations between the administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republicans are now looking to advance a new piece of COVID-19 relief legislation that’s a slimmed-down version of their original $1 trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act.

While the HEALS Act floundered — failing to garner support from more than half of the GOP conference — Republican leadership hopes the new, “skinny” proposal will attract at least 51 Republican votes, a statement of support from the majority that might aid McConnell in bipartisan negotiations. The new $500 billion proposal, which is not expected to attract Democratic support, includes funding for reduced federal unemployment insurance benefits, virus treatment and tracing, vaccines, liability protections and aid for schools and small businesses.

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