Pandemic Relief Stalled 10/22 06:25
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Negotiations on a COVID-19 relief bill are inching
forward, but it's clear the window for action before the Nov. 3 election is
closing and the issue will be tossed to a postelection lame-duck session of
The only thing that seems certain beyond that is uncertainty, with Capitol
Hill veterans cautioning against expecting a quick and smooth resolution for an
aid package that has tied Washington in knots for months.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke again
Wednesday but her office signaled no real progress, and she acknowledged for
the first time publicly that the measure won't pass before the election.
President Donald Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, accused Pelosi of
slow-walking the talks. Trump's most powerful Senate GOP ally, Majority Leader
Mitch McConnell, is warning against a costly deal that could drive a wedge
between the president and his fellow Republicans.
No one knows whether Election Day will bring much more clarity.
"I'm never very optimistic about the lame duck and I've never been
surprised," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "You don't get near as much done as you
think you're going to get done."
Those Republicans willing to speculate about a Trump loss in two weeks say
not to expect much, either.
"I think Democrats would want to wait until the new president is sworn in
and do it then and I think Republicans probably would say ... the economy's
taking care of it," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
At issue is a huge virus relief bill that would send another $1,200 direct
payment to most Americans, restart bonus unemployment benefits, fund additional
testing and vaccines, provide aid to schools and allocate money to states and
local governments, a Democratic priority.
A $1.8 trillion rescue plan in March passed virtually unanimously. The
Pelosi-pushed package today is even larger but has run into resolute opposition
from Republicans. Taking care of the issue would clear the decks for a fresh
start on the congressional agenda next year.
Pelosi remains optimistic, even after Washington was blanketed with media
reports that McConnell, R-Ky., has warned the White House against sealing a $2
trillion or so relief deal with Pelosi before the election.
"Let's keep working so that we can do it after the election," Pelosi said
Wednesday on MSNBC.
"We obviously want to have a deal by Nov. 3," Pelosi told SiriusXM radio.
"That really is going to be up to whether the president can convince Mitch
McConnell to do so."
McConnell says the GOP-controlled Senate is not buying the need for
legislation as large as Trump wanted. And Meadows told reporters that Pelosi is
still too uncompromising.
"We haven't seen a lot of action from Speaker Pelosi," Meadows said. "Most
of the progress we've made have been concessions that the president has made."
Senate Democrats blocked a Senate GOP plan that McConnell brought to a vote
Wednesday. The measure contained more than $100 billion for schools, a $300 per
week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, and more subsidies for
businesses especially hard hit by pandemic-related downturns and closures. It
does not include the $1,200 direct payments that are so important to Trump.
Trump says that if he wins reelection, aid will flow immediately. When
former President Barack Obama won reelection in 2012, for instance, he went on
to prevail in "fiscal cliff" negotiations on taxes.
If he loses, it's unclear whether Trump's enthusiasm for delivering it will
be as strong. Lame-duck sessions during White House changeovers in 2008 and
2016 didn't deliver much.
But Pelosi said she believes McConnell "might not mind doing it after the
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., acknowledged that lame-duck sessions typically
aren't very productive, but he added, "Normally they don't have this kind of