COVID-19 stimulus negotiations between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continue to drag on in what sounds like an atmosphere of going through the motions. As The Hill reports, at the current pace, even if they are making progress, nothing will be resolved by Election Day:
The top negotiators fighting for a deal on emergency coronavirus relief spoke again on Wednesday as they face increasingly dismal odds to secure an agreement before Election Day.
The hourlong phone call between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was a “productive” one, according to Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, citing a focused effort to find “clarification on language” — a reference to assurances sought by Democrats that new funding allocated by Congress will be spent on intended programs.
But a deal remains a long shot, as Democrats have held firm to their $2.2 trillion demand; Senate Republicans have balked at even the $1.8 trillion proposal from the White House; and President Trump has confused the debate with a stream of mixed messages regarding what he supports.
The negotiators still don’t agree on the cost or scope of a compromise package, or either side’s must-have provisions: for Republicans, a COVID-19 liability shield; for Democrats, a robust state and local assistance fund. Pelosi is also insisting on a new national testing strategy, which would presumably require the administration to admit it doesn’t have one now. And Mnuchin isn’t bothering to disguise his pessimism, saying a pre-election deal “would be difficult just given where we are and the level of detail.”
One variable in the swirling mix of issues is whether Senate Republicans would accept a deal even if Pelosi and Mnuchin strike one. Either way, Mitch McConnell seems to be moving back to another exercise in pre-election posturing with a second “skinny stimulus” proposal he plans to bring to the Senate floor, where it will presumably be killed by Senate Democrats like its predecessor. The details are a little sketchy so far, according to Roll Call, but it looks like this “skinny” bill will include skinny stimulus checks:
The Senate will vote next week on a roughly $500 billion COVID-19 relief package that mirrors an earlier Republican proposal, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday ….
McConnell said another round of tax rebates would be included in the new GOP proposal, unlike the earlier skinny package. He said the measure will include “another round of checks for those who have been hit the hardest,” though he didn’t specify an income threshold.
Otherwise, the new bill is more of the same thin gruel Senate Republicans have been serving up recently, with limited dollars for unemployment insurance, schools, and health-care facilities, a plus-up of small-business loans, and of course a liability shield. It represents no real movement toward the Democratic position on stimulus, though presumably the skinny check will please the president, who has consistently favored a renewal of that voter-pleasing measure.
In theory, Senate Republicans could hold a “messaging” vote on another skinny stimulus bill and still go along with a Pelosi-Mnuchin deal. But one theory circulating in Washington is that McConnell’s troops have given up on deal-making and are already positioning themselves to sabotage a Biden administration, as Greg Sargent suggests:
A Senate GOP strategist privately confided to Bloomberg that a key Republican goal right now is to lay the groundwork to revert hard to austerity, should Biden prevail, crippling the possibility of any serious stimulus efforts next year, even amid continued economic misery …
[I]t accords with what all our intuitions and our understanding of recent U.S. political history tell us. Republicans almost certainly suspect Trump will lose even with a big stimulus and already hope to put an incoming President Joe Biden in a fiscal straitjacket, saddling him with the terrible politics of a grueling recovery.
I don’t know about all that: If a desperate Trump endorses a deal, it’s unclear that McConnell could or would deny it a vote. Assuming Senate Democrats are onboard, he could still let much of his conference vote nay to get back into the habit of austerity-mongering the GOP modeled during the Obama-Biden administration. And too much negative talk about stimulus could help ensure Republicans get at least a share of the blame for failure to get a deal if the talks continue to go in circles.