The incredibly drawn-out saga of negotiations over a second major comprehensive COVID-19 relief and stimulus package wheezed along for another day on Monday, but the talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin produced no agreement. Instead, there may even have been some backsliding on previous progress, as Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, Drew Hammill, indicated in a Twitter thread on Monday afternoon:
The Speaker and Secretary Mnuchin spoke today at 2:00 p.m. by phone for 52 minutes. As the nation faces record spikes in new COVID cases, we continue to eagerly await the Administration’s acceptance of our health language, which includes a national strategic plan on testing and tracing. We are hopeful their response will be positive as we also await the outcomes of talks between committee chairs. It is clear that our progress depends on Leader McConnell agreeing to bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to crush the virus, honor our heroes — our essential workers — and put money in the pockets of the American people. The Speaker remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached before the election.
[Pelosi] blasted the Trump administration for declining to sign on to Democrats’ plan for a COVID-19 testing strategy, despite earlier public statements from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicating that there was an agreement.
“Today, we are waiting for an important response on several concerns, including on action to crush the virus. Ten days after Secretary Mnuchin went on CNBC to declare that he was accepting our testing plan, the Administration still refuses to do so,” Pelosi wrote.
If that still hasn’t happened, what reason is there to hope that a preelection deal can be struck on areas like state-and-local-government assistance and a COVID-19 liability shield when there’s not an agreement in principle?
As of Sunday, both sides (Pelosi and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows) were accusing the other of “moving the goal posts” in the negotiations, which isn’t a good sign either. And as Hammill’s reaction shows, there’s still considerable concern about getting a deal, if there is one, through the Republican-controlled Senate in a timely manner.
At this point, it’s very likely that the best that can be expected is a deal announced before Election Day with congressional approval and a Trump signature happening soon afterward. That way, perhaps the Senate problem can be brushed off until mañana. But when you think it through, it’s unlikely that anyone other than Donald J. Trump is eager for a preelection announcement of a stimulus package that may or may not actually be enacted. Because Pelosi knows that, she is likely continuing to play a waiting game in hopes that Mnuchin’s boss will panic and cave to her on the major outstanding points. And so she will continue to be “hopeful” about a deal even as she trashes the administration’s specific response. Whoever actually deserves the lion’s share of blame for disappointing all those people waiting to receive a second $1,200 stimulus check, it’s going to be Trump who will mostly quickly and sharply feel the pain. For one thing, a combination of the surge in COVID-19 cases and the anxiety over the absence of a stimulus deal is damaging Trump’s precious stock-market achievements. And without that, his reelection talking points are pretty meager.