New Virus Relief May Slip Past Election10/19 06:23
Congress is quickly moving past the point at which it can deliver more
coronavirus relief before the election, with differences between House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, her Senate Republican rivals and President Donald Trump proving
durable despite the glaring needs of the country.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress is quickly moving past the point at which it can
deliver more coronavirus relief before the election, with differences between
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her Senate Republican rivals and President Donald
Trump proving durable despite the glaring needs of the country.
Trump's GOP allies are reconvening the Senate this week for a revote on a
virus proposal that about one-third the size of a measure being negotiated by
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But the Senate GOP bill has
failed once before, and that Trump himself now says is too puny. The debate
promises to bring a hefty dose of posturing and political gamesmanship, but
little more. A procedural vote on a stand-alone renewal of bipartisan Paycheck
Protection Program business subsidies is slated for Tuesday.
Even the architect of the larger Senate measure, Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell, R-Ky., isn't claiming the vote will advance the ball. 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.
In that context, this week's action has the chief benefit of giving
Republicans in tough reelection races one last opportunity to try to show
voters they are prioritizing COVID relief --- and to make the case to voters
that Democrats are the ones standing in the way.
"It was important to indicate to the American people before the election ---
not after --- that we were not in favor of a stalemate, that we were not in
favor of doing nothing," McConnell said in a Kentucky appearance last week.
McConnell is resurrecting a measure in the $650 billion range that would
repurpose $138 billion in small business subsidies to provide a second round of
paycheck relief, add $300 per week in supplemental unemployment benefits, and
help schools and universities reopen. The last version of the bill left out
help for states and local governments sought by Democrats and another round of
$1,200 direct payments demanded by Trump.
The last coronavirus relief package, the $1.8 trillion bipartisan CARES Act,
passed in March by an overwhelming margin as the economy went into lockdown
amid fear and uncertainty about the virus. Since then, Trump and many of his
GOP allies have focused on loosening social and economic restrictions as the
key to recovery instead of more taxpayer-funded help.
Trump has been anything but consistent. He now insists that lawmakers should
"go big" with a bill of up to $2 trillion or more, a total reversal after
abandoning the talks earlier this month. But Trump's political problems aren't
swaying Senate Republicans.
"He's talking about a much larger amount than I can sell to my members,"
The most recent bill from House Democrats weighs in at $2.4 trillion --- or
more than $2.6 trillion when excluding a $246 billion tax increase on
businesses that's unlikely to gain GOP acceptance. The package is a nonstarter
with Senate Republicans and McConnell, who is making the case for a more
targeted approach that's well south of $1 trillion.
The moment is challenging for Pelosi as well. For months she has been
promising a COVID relief package of more than $2 trillion stuffed with
Obama-era stimulus ideas. Even though the Senate and White House are both in
GOP hands --- and will be at least into January --- she has sharply rebuffed
anyone who suggests that Democrats should take a smaller deal now rather than
risk going home empty-handed until next year.
"This is not the time to say, 'Okay, let's fold.' This is what we have been
building up to," Pelosi told fellow Democrats on a recent teleconference. She
said Sunday that she remains optimistic of reaching an agreement with the
administration but that a deal would have to come within 48 hours --- or
Tuesday --- for it to be enacted by Election Day.
Taking a smaller bill now would likely require Pelosi to give up tax cuts
for the working poor and accept a far smaller aid package for states and local
governments. But it would also mean that relief would flow immediately to
millions of workers whose supplemental unemployment benefits were cut off this
Liberal economist Jared Bernstein, who worked for Democratic presidential
nominee Joe Biden in 2009 and advises him now, says inaction would mean "a lot
of completely avoidable suffering for economically vulnerable people."
When an aid bill finally passes may depend on the outcome of the election.
If Trump loses, Congress is likely to stagger through a nonproductive
lame-duck session comparable to the abbreviated session after the decisive 2008
Obama-Biden victory or the 2016 session that punted most of its leftovers to
the Trump administration. That scenario would push virus aid into 2021.
Delays in coronavirus aid come as the recovery from this spring's economic
shutdown is slowing and as the massive stimulus effects of the $1.8 trillion
March relief measure wear off. COVID cases are spiking again heading into a
third wave of the pandemic this winter. Poverty is climbing and the virus is
continuing to take a disproportionate toll on minority communities.
"If Congress doesn't act the next administration is going to inherit a real
mess," said Harvard economist Jason Furman, a former top Obama adviser.
"Economic problems tend to feed on themselves." He is in the Democratic camp
that prefers imperfect stimulus now rather than a larger package in four months
Instead, if history repeats, COVID relief is likely to be the first major
item out of the gate next year, but it's not clear even then that it'll be as
big as Democrats hope.
"Pelosi decided in July that the political benefit of the next package would
accrue to the president's benefit and therefore she was going to lay out the
most aggressive terms possible," said veteran GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry of North
Carolina, who predicts that Pelosi won't get much more next year than she could
have gotten now "unless they're willing to break the filibuster for a $3
trillion bailout for blue states."