coronavirus relief
November 21, 2020

Incoming presidents "typically want to wait until they have the reins of power in order to put their fingerprints on the policies coming out of the door," Jared Bernstein, who served as President-elect Joe Biden's chief economist during the Obama administration, said this week during a virtual conference. But, he added, Biden would prefer that not be the case when it comes to coronavirus relief, which is "something that should happen now."

Biden has entered the coronavirus relief fight and wants a deal done before he's sworn in as president, Politico reports, even though waiting would theoretically increase the Democratic Party's chances of securing a larger deal, which is currently a non-starter for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "They care more about governing than they care about politics on this one," one person in touch with the transition team told Politico.

Biden's camp is reportedly focused on ensuring Black-owned businesses receive loans they had trouble securing following the first relief bill, getting funding for state and local governments, and extending enhanced unemployment benefits. The latter issue is where Biden "may have to give something up to McConnell that we really don't want to give up to get" a deal, "but we simply have to do this," another person close to the transition team said. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

October 28, 2020

The Senate adjourned Monday night until the week after the Nov. 3 election, officially ending all hopes of COVID-19 economic relief legislation being passed before voting ends, and probably much longer. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had made clear he did not want to vote on a roughly $2 trillion package being negotiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and, on behalf of President Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Trump had sent mixed messages, but tended toward enthusiasm for an expensive package. Pelosi threw in the towel Tuesday.

"For a long time now, congressional Democrats have laid out a strategic plan to crush the virus," Pelosi said in a letter to House Democrats. "The White House and Mitch McConnell have resisted, and on Sunday, Mark Meadows told us why saying 'We're not going to control the pandemic.'" The White House, she added, "has failed miserably — not by accident, but by decision" — and while the House will "continue to put pen to paper" on legislation, "the president's words only have meaning if he can get Mitch McConnell to take his hand off the pause button."

The president's words on Tuesday were to accuse Pelosi of being "interested in bailing out badly-run, crime-ridden Democrat cities and states," not "helping the people," and promising: "After the election, we will get the best stimulus package you have ever seen." U.S. stock indexes dropped markedly again Tuesday on fading hopes for a financial stimulus and rapidly rising COVID-19 infections. Peter Weber

October 20, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke for about an hour Monday as they scrabble to reach agreement on a COVID-19 stimulus package before Pelosi's Tuesday night deadline. They reported some progress. "We have finally in the last 24 hours ... come to a place where they are willing to address the crisis," Pelosi said on MSNBC Monday night. She laid out the sticking points with the White House in a private call with House Democrats on Monday.

"I want this as soon as possible because I don't want to carry over the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency," Pelosi said on the call, Politico reports. "We've got to get something big and we've got it done soon and we've got to get it done right." The financial markets seem skeptical. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 411 points, or 1.5 percent, on Monday as hopes faded for a deal.

President Trump also says he wants a big deal, but if Pelosi and Mnuchin manage to negotiate one, he will have to lean on Senate Republicans for them to even take it seriously. "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said only the Senate would 'consider' any such agreement, with no promise of a floor vote or whether it would have his support," Politico reports. A significant number of Senate Republicans are balking at the price tag, between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion, and "if all Senate Democrats supported the legislation, it would still need more than a dozen Republicans to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster."

Republicans' "natural instinct, depending on how big it is, and what's in it, is probably going to be to be against it," Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Monday. "I think we're going to have a hard time finding 13 votes for anything." Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said the package "would divide Republicans if it's anything like the kind of contours we hear about."

"Given the number of Republican senators in tough re-election races, it's conceivable that some of them would support a massive spending deal," Politico notes, but Senate Republicans would clearly prefer that negotiations fail. "You'll lose a lot of Republicans on whatever that is," said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). But "If they bring it up for a vote, I'm guessing there will be enough to get it across the finish line." Peter Weber

October 19, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday that if she and the White House can't agree on a COVID-19 stimulus package by Tuesday night, it will have to wait until after the election. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been negotiating for months, and they are reportedly within striking distance of a deal worth between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion. "I am optimistic that we can reach agreement before the election," Pelosi wrote her caucus on Saturday, adding that Democrats are "fully prepared to move forward once we reach agreement."

President Trump said Sunday that Pelosi, who passed a $3.4 trillion stimulus bill in May and a $2.2 trillion bill this month, is being too frugal now. "I want to do it at a bigger number than she wants," he said on the tarmac in Carson City, Nevada. "That doesn't mean all the Republicans agree with me, but I think they will in the end. If she would go along, I think they would, too, on stimulus."

Senate Republicans have shown few signs they would go along with a bill in that price range. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is scheduling a second vote this week on a bill with about $500 billion in new funds, but last week he said Trump is "talking about a much larger amount than I can sell to my members."

McConnell expects Senate Democrats to block his smaller bill, The Associated Press reports, and "once the measure fails, he plans to turn the chamber's full attention to cementing a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court by confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett. It is likely to be the Senate's final act before Election Day." Recent polls show that a sizable majority of voters want the Senate to pass another round of stimulus before voting on Barrett's nomination.

McConnell said Saturday that "if Speaker Pelosi ever lets the House reach a bipartisan agreement with the administration, the Senate would of course consider it," but given opposition inside his own ranks, it isn't clear he would. Either way, "Congress is past the point at which it can deliver more coronavirus relief before the election," AP concludes, with the differences between Pelosi, Trump, and McConnell "proving insurmountable despite the glaring needs of the country." Peter Weber

October 10, 2020

A coronavirus relief package doesn't sound like it's any closer to receiving a stamp of approval from Congress after both Democrats and Republicans criticized — for different reasons — the latest $1.8 trillion proposal from the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Trump administration's offer, which comes just a few days after President Trump briefly called for a halt to negotiations, "amounted to one step forward and two steps back." The speaker, whose latest public offer was about $2.2 trillion, explained that the major divides between Democrats and the White House were over an apparent lack of national coronavirus containment strategy and inadequate funding for child care and supplemental insurance benefits.

Republicans, meanwhile, told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that Trump's bill was too big during a Saturday conference call. Per Politico, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said "there's no appetite to spend" what either the White House or Pelosi have put on the table, while some of his colleagues including Sen. John Borrasso (R-Wyo.) and fellow Tennessean Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R) suggested passing legislation that costly would lead to an unhappy outcome for the GOP at the ballot box this November. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

October 6, 2020

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told CNN he supports President Trump's decision to spike coronavirus relief talks because the negotiations with congressional Democrats "were not going to produce a result and we need to concentrate on what's achievable," perhaps referring to the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation process.

But some analysts, like The Washington Post's Philip Bump, are baffled by Trump's move. Bump is of the opinion that the Democrats' latest offer was a gift for the president since it would have allowed him to take credit for rejuvenating the economy just weeks before November's presidential election.

"It's inexplicable that an incumbent president whose primary argument for his re-election is the strength of the economy would prefer to argue that 'jobs are coming back in record numbers' — a function of how deep they'd plunged — instead of actually pouring money into the economy," Bump wrote before suggesting the president is using the stalled talks to leverage votes, since he said he'd sign a "major" relief package after the election. Axios' Jonathan Swan agreed, writing, "I truly don't understand this, and nor do a number of people who advise the president. It's like he's trying to lose."

Former Obama administration economist Byron Auguste, meanwhile, isn't interested in the "political implications" of the end of talks. Instead, he said, "what matters most" is how it will affect the American people. Tim O'Donnell

October 6, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday announced he's rejecting congressional Democrats' latest coronavirus relief bill package, but went a step further than usual this time by apparently telling his negotiating team, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, to halt talks "until after the election."

Trump's issue with the Democrats' proposal was that it was, in his view, asking for funding to cover matters "in no way related to COVID-19."

Mnuchin was reportedly scheduled to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for more talks Tuesday, but it sounds like that won't end up happening.

If the White House follows through on the declaration, the efforts will be placed on hold until at least Nov. 3. After that, the president promised Congress a "major" relief bill. In the meantime, Trump said he wants the Republican-led Senate to focus on confirming his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Tim O'Donnell

October 1, 2020

The House on Thursday night passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but it has little chance of advancing in the GOP-led Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is still trying to work out a deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that is acceptable to Democrats and Senate Republicans.

The measure is a scaled-back version of the $3.4 trillion relief package passed by the House in May. No Republicans voted for it, and 20 Democrats, mostly from swing districts, also voted against it. Pelosi is facing pressure from some Democrats to reach a quick compromise with Mnuchin, who is offering a $1.6 trillion bill, but she said on the floor before Thursday's vote that this is a "values debate. It's important for people to know what this fight is about. The people have needs, and we have to meet them."

When it comes to offering relief, Democrats are pushing for more aid to go to state and local governments, while the GOP wants liability protections for schools and businesses, Politico reports. Pelosi told reporters on Thursday night she is still reviewing the latest documents from Mnuchin, and "even if we come to some agreement, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to — it's the language." Catherine Garcia

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