If you are wondering why coronavirus stimulus talks between congressional Democrats and the White House are no longer getting much coverage, it’s because there really isn’t anything to cover. The last substantive move by either side was Nancy Pelosi’s very public offer to split the vast differences in overall costs between the $3 trillion-plus HEROES Act the House passed in May and the $1 trillion HEALS Act Senate Republicans (with White House concurrence) unveiled last month. It was rejected out of hand by the White House, and Mitch McConnell (per Politico) piled on with the usual rhetoric implying that Democrats are using the COVID-19 pandemic to advance their godless socialistic agenda:
“The speaker and the Democratic leader say nothing can move unless every one of these unrelated far-left items tags along,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “These two individuals are letting the wish-lists of wealthy coastal elites stand between every working family in America and the additional help they deserve.”
The same day, Trump added his own unhelpful thoughts, as reported by the Washington Post:
“The bill’s not going to happen because they don’t even want to talk about it, because we can’t give them the kind of ridiculous things that they want that have nothing to do with the China virus,” Trump said at the White House during an evening news briefing, using a term criticized as racially insensitive.
Among those “ridiculous things” are apparently emergency help for the struggling U.S. Postal Service and the even more painfully struggling state and local election officials, which Trump attacked for facilitating voting by mail, that perfectly legal option the president apparently plans to use to delegitimize any election defeat.
More generally, there’s not much to talk about whether Republicans still refuse to bend on the size or scope of the deal. They are, to be sure, under a lot of pressure from a reported 20 Senate Republicans who don’t want any stimulus legislation at all.
Congress itself is on its traditional preelection long recess. Yes, technically, the Senate is in session, but without many senators around. And as the Hill reports, nobody’s expecting a breakthrough until next month:
Talks on a new coronavirus relief package are going nowhere, increasing the likelihood that there won’t be a deal until at least September and the economy will be cut off from additional stimulus for weeks.
The stalemate could pose a risk to both parties, but there is little pressure for Congress to move for the time being.
Lawmakers have mostly fled to their home states, the next jobs report won’t be released until early September and the country’s attention is set to shift for nearly two weeks to the scaled back GOP and Democratic conventions.
A bad August jobs report in early September could jolt Congress into action, or a good one could stiffen Republican resistance. The pace at which the president’s deeply flawed executive actions — on expiring CARES Act provisions concerning unemployment insurance and evictions — unravel could have an effect as well. The impending end of the fiscal year on September 30 typically spurs threats of a government shutdown unless this or that deal is cut, though a December 2019 two-year budget deal made that less likely than before. The November election is ultimately the deadline for a stimulus deal, particularly for Trump and Republicans who are fighting an uphill battle against what’s looking like another Democratic wave. And Americans expecting a second $1,200 stimulus check — one of the few items on which the two parties are not at all far apart — could grow very impatient.
For now, nothing’s shaking, and overall Democrats, who control the House and the senators necessary to get a deal through that chamber given all the conservative resistance, have the most leverage. We’ll see how long Republicans continue to call Democratic proposals “ridiculous.”