The funniest headline of the day comes from the New York Daily News: “Congress Races to Hammer Out $908 Billion COVID Stimulus Package As Shutdown Deadline Looms.” As anyone who has been closely watching either the stimulus negotiations or the appropriations talks aimed at preventing a government shutdown can tell you, there’s not any racing going on.
Yes, the COVID spike and renewed economic jitters have revived bipartisan interest in a relief/stimulus bill. But as Roll Call reports, House Democrats and Senate Republicans remain stuck on the same issues they have been arguing about since last spring:
After making a big splash last week and injecting a sense of optimism into long-delayed coronavirus relief talks, a bipartisan $908 billion plan is hung up over the specifics of aid to states and localities and liability protections for businesses.
Sources familiar with the talks said those two issues were the main sticking points holding up introduction of bill text, after a three-hour conference call on Sunday.
And yes, Congress needs to deal with spending before the preelection stopgap spending bill runs out on December 11, but they have and will probably exercise the ability to kick the can down the road one or two or ten times via another stopgap bill. The latest speculation is that they will vote this week to extend the spending deadline for another week, in part to give negotiators more time to dicker over the stimulus bill. But that does not guarantee a deal in either area is imminent.
Barring some new development, the most interesting wrinkle on the stimulus front comes from an unexpected source: a Senate Republican who wants to spend a lot more money, as Politico reports:
Sen. Josh Hawley is not happy that the leading coronavirus proposals lack another round of direct payments to Americans — and he’s taking his case straight to President Donald Trump.
The Missouri Republican lobbied Trump to veto any coronavirus aid bill that does not contain a second tranche of checks to Americans in a phone call on Saturday. And Hawley said the president listened intently as he flew home on Air Force One from a rally in Georgia.
Trump has always been a lot more bullish on a second stimulus check than his allies in Congress, though before November 3, it was probably because he wanted to buy some votes for reelection. Hawley seems to think he got the president’s attention, though at the same time he confirmed that Trump was not exactly following the negotiations with bated breath:
“We had a good conversation about it. And, you know, a pretty thorough conversation. He asked a number of questions about the state of play of the different proposals. And I think it’s fair to say that he was surprised at the direction that some of these were headed,” Hawley said.
In any event, it’s unclear Trump is inclined to drag Senate Republicans, who are flexing atrophied austerity muscles in anticipation of a Biden administration, toward generosity to the hundreds of millions of Americans who would presumably receive another $1,200 check. But Hawley (presumed by some to be a future presidential candidate) is smart to single himself out in this respect while burnishing his “conservative populist” credentials. And it’s possible Trump could help get the talks unstuck, though he is usually about as helpful at moments of sensitive negotiation as a three-toed sloth in a ballet.