Congressional negotiations on a substantial Coronavirus relief bill took a modest step forward on October 20, though time is running out and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump’s most powerful Senate ally, is pressing the White House against going forward. Senator McConnell on October 20 told fellow Republicans that he has warned the Trump administration not to divide Republicans by sealing a lopsided $2 trillion relief deal with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the election — even as he publicly said he would slate any such agreement for a vote. Pelosi’s office said talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on October 19 and 20 were productive. However, other veteran lawmakers said there is still too much work to do and not enough time to do it to enact a relief bill by Election Day.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made his remarks during a private lunch with fellow Republicans, three people familiar with them said, requesting anonymity because the session was private. The Kentucky Republican appears worried that an agreement between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin would drive a wedge between Republicans, forcing them to choose whether to support a Pelosi-blessed deal with President Donald Trump that would violate conservative positions they’ve stuck with for months. Many Republicans say they cannot vote for another Pelosi-brokered agreement. McConnell said if such a bill passed the Democratic-controlled House with Trump’s blessing, “we would put it on the floor of the Senate.” Those public remarks came after the private session with fellow Republicans.
Despite his previous dismissal of further Coronavirus relief efforts, President Donald Trump is hoping for an agreement before the election, eager to announce another round of $1,200 direct payments going out under his name, but it is increasingly evident that time has pretty much run out. If he wins, President Trump is promising relief, but if he loses, as polls indicate, it is unclear that his enthusiasm for delivering Coronavirus aid will be as strong. Recent history suggests that any post-election lame-duck session in the event of a Trump loss would not produce much. “It’s not a question of ‘íf.’ It’s a question of ‘when.’” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota. “We have to do more. We know that.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she and Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin remained at odds over refundable tax credits for the working poor and families with children, the size of a Democratic-sought aid package for state and local governments, and a liability shield for businesses and other organizations against lawsuits over their Coroanvirus preparations. Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill, wrote on Twitter that she and Mnuchin then spoke for 45 minutes and found “more clarity and common ground” and that “both sides are serious about finding a compromise.” The Pelosi-Mnuchin talks also involve pandemic jobless aid, the second round of $1,200 direct payments, and money for schools, testing, and vaccines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said October 20 was a deadline day, but clarified in an interview with Bloomberg News that the aim is to spur the two sides to exchange their best proposals on a host of unresolved issues, not to close out all of their disagreements or have final legislative language at hand. “Let’s see where we are,” Pelosi said. “We all want to get an agreement.” Time is running out, and Pelosi has instructed her committee chairs to try to iron out details, but the Senate Republican negotiators do not appear as eager as she is. “It’s getting to be toward the last minute and the clock keeps ticking away,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL), said. “I’m not optimistic about doing anything.” Aides familiar with the talks say the price tag for a potential Pelosi-Mnuchin deal is inching close to $2 trillion. Senate Republicans are recoiling at both the size of the measure and Pelosi’s demands, even as President Donald Trump is beating the drums for an agreement.“I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats. Not every Republican agrees,” President Donald Trump said in a Fox News interview. “But they will.”