coronavirus stimulus

Will All the Distractions Kill Coronavirus Stimulus Talks Until After the Election?

Can Pelosi and Mnuchin use the Supreme Court confirmation fight to provide cover for a renewal of stimulus talks? Photo: Getty Images

Here’s the word for all those hoping for a second $1,200 stimulus check or some other federal COVID-19-triggered federal assistance. Two days after the president kept hope alive by saying positive things about the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus’s $1.5 trillion compromise, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and Trump (not exactly known as a great multitasker) and Senate Republicans leapt at the opportunity to rush through a conservative Court nominee before the election (or barring that, during a postelection lame-duck session of the Senate). It will certainly be a huge distraction for various figures involved in stimulus talks, as well as the public.

But with Nancy Pelosi and the White House staff actually conducting the stimulus negotiations (when they are being conducted at all), Politico Playbook speculated that there was a possibility the wild action in the Senate would provide some cover for quiet stimulus talks:

HERE’S A QUESTION WORTH PONDERING: Does the Supreme Court fight make Covid relief more or less likely? We can argue it either way. More likely: Everyone’s eyes are somewhere else, so MEADOWS/Treasury Secretary STEVEN MNUCHIN can quietly approach the Democrats. Less likely: A Supreme Court vacancy is all-consuming. It sucks up all the oxygen, especially so close to the election.

But totally aside from the battles over the Supreme Court and COVID-19 stimulus, Pelosi’s plate is pretty full, at least temporarily, as Bloomberg News reports:

Congressional Democrats and Republicans and the White House have opened negotiations to resolve a dispute over farm aid that had raised the risk of a U.S. government shutdown on Oct. 1.

To facilitate the talks, the House may scrap plans to vote later Tuesday on a stopgap spending bill that lacked Republican and White House support. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told reporters a vote would happen “at some point in the next day or two.” If the talks on farm aid fall through, the vote in the Democratic-majority House would go forward Tuesday, according to congressional aides …

A continued standoff could risk the clock running out on government funding if the Senate blocks the House’s version of the stopgap bill and attempts to amend it with the farm-aid funds. Such a Senate vote could also be politically difficult for Democrats in agriculture-intensive states.

In case you missed it, an earlier agreement on a “clean” stopgap spending bill to keep the government running until after the election slipped, as the White House and Republicans insisted on “emergency” money ($30 billion) for a fund from which Trump is doling out payments to farmers affected by his trade policies. Pelosi viewed this as presidential preelection voter bribery and omitted the aid from a House Democratic stopgap bill, and now there’s real trouble if Senate Republicans go to the mats.

None of this wrangling directly affects the prospects for a stimulus bill, but aside from the distraction factor, it (along with the Supreme Court confirmation fight) poisons an already toxic atmosphere of partisanship in Washington. It’s also worth noting that if Pelosi is loath to go along with a $30 billion increase in the fund from which Trump is making preelection payments to farmers, she may not want to rush to the table to appropriate $300 billion for second stimulus checks to be sent to 160 million people sporting Trump’s signature.

My guess is that if there’s any hope of a stimulus deal being cut before Election Day, it will take some stronger public or private signals from the White House that Trump will ignore his congressional allies and make some big concessions to Democrats to restart talks. And if the federal government actually does shut down, you can probably forget about a stimulus deal anytime soon.

Will Distractions Kill COVID-19 Stimulus Until November?