COVID pains
August 12, 2020

The Democratic-led House passed a huge COVID-19 aid package in May, the Republican-led Senate began discussing its more modest alternative in July, but after talks between congressional Democrats and the White House negotiating team broke down last Friday, it may well be September before any relief package reaches President Trump's desk. "In fact, we are told it could be weeks before any serious talks resume barring any significant events like Wall Street sell-offs or a run of truly dismal economic data," Ben White reports at Politico.

"The impasse leaves millions of jobless people without a $600-per-week pandemic bonus jobless benefit that has helped families stay afloat, leaves state and local governments seeking fiscal relief high and dry, and holds back a more than $100 billion school aid package," The Associated Press reports. "Money for other priorities, including the election, may come too late, if at all."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are all in Washington, though rank-and-file members of Congress have returned to their districts and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, the other key member of Trump's negotiating team, "left Washington this week for an unspecified amount of time," The Washington Post reports.

Talks are on hold for now because "Meadows is out for the week but mostly because the administration feels confident they have the upper hand politically," thanks to Trump's less-than-advertised executive orders, Politico's White reports. "One official said the White House feels it has Democrats in a 'real pickle.'" Pelosi and Schumer, meanwhile, "have adopted hardball negotiating tactics as they survey a tactical landscape that favors them," AP reports. "They have given some ground on the overall price tag, but say it's up to Republicans to acknowledge the scope of the crisis." Senate Republicans are sharply divided on whether more relief is even necessary.

Schumer, Pelosi, and Mnuchin negotiated four huge COVID-19 relief packages in short order earlier in the pandemic, before Meadows took over as Trump's chief of staff, and Democrats largely blame his participation — and his pushing Trump to sidestep Congress with executive orders — for derailing the talks. "What the president doesn't understand is that Meadows knows how to do one thing — be a Freedom Caucus member," one senior administration official told the Post. "He isn't some consensus-builder or a dealmaker." Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads