Second stimulus checks: Why a relief deal appears unlikely before Election Day

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — When the full Senate returns to Washington Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to push a “skinny” GOP COVID-19 relief bill designed to bring aid to hard-hit businesses.

The bill is in stark contrast to a much larger package that would include additional $1,200 direct payments being pushed by President Donald Trump and shows a divide not only between Democrats and Republicans — but inside GOP leadership.

When McConnell rolls out his bill on Monday, it will largely be symbolic. Democrats have gone on record saying they aren’t interested in a smaller-bore approach to virus relief.

Last month, Democrats filibustered a GOP-drafted aid bill that did not include another round of direct payment to Americans, and recent talks on a larger deal between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., haven’t made much progress.

Mnuchin told CNBC on Wednesday that a coronavirus relief bill being announced before the election could be problematic if not unlikely.

“At this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that will be difficult,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin said progress has been made on certain issues, but on other issues, they “continue to be far apart.”

“Let’s not wait for the big bang where everything is perfect,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “I don’t agree with the Speaker’s approach of we have to do all or nothing. We’re continuing to negotiate a comprehensive bill, but we want to put money into the economy now.”

According to the Washington Post, Pelosi and Mnuchin discussed on Thursday a spending deal between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion. Trump has said he would support even more and noted during Thursday’s town hall with NBC that Republicans “will agree with it.”

“They’ll go,” he told moderator Savannah Guthrie. “I haven’t asked them to because I can’t get through Nancy Pelosi.”

Right now, GOP senators being willing to “go” doesn’t seem likely.

McConnell and his colleagues in the Senate have expressed little to no interest in a bill larger than the approximately $500 billion proposal they’ll be rolling out next week. Many political insiders speculate Republican lawmakers are concerned about cutting a large spending bill with the polarizing Pelosi just weeks before control of the Senate is put in the hands of voters.

Along those same lines, pundits question whether Pelosi would cut a deal with Republicans less than three weeks before a tight presidential election. While stimulus checks have been widely pushed by Democrats, they could also be viewed as a win for the president. When the first round of checks was distributed, Trump’s signature was on each of the payments. If Trump was able to get a second round of relief distributed as people are heading to the polls for early voting, it would certainly be something to brag about before the election.

“A fly on the wall or wherever else it might land in the Oval Office tells me that the President only wants his name on a check to go out before Election Day and for the market to go up,” Pelosi said in a letter to her colleagues earlier this week.

She defended her hardline position, claiming Democrats have more leverage than ever. But the risk of emerging empty-handed until next year appears very real.

Talks on the latest potential round of COVID relief began in July, collapsed in August, and were revived last month. Last week alone saw Trump cause the talks to collapse on Tuesday, only to revive them heading into the weekend. They then cratered again on Saturday after Trump’s latest $1.8 trillion proposal took heavy fire from both Democrats and Trump’s GOP allies.

Republicans are back to offering smaller, targeted aid that would permit endangered party members to again go on record in favor of aid, even if it’s a nonstarter with Democrats and opposed by Trump.

“What I hear from Sen. McConnell is once again take a little piece and be satisfied. What I hear from the president just the opposite,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “Can the two of them sit down and agree? Wouldn’t that be a breakthrough?”

Some Democrats are convinced that Joe Biden is poised to reclaim the White House and have been pressuring Pelosi to strike a less ambitious deal that would deliver aid now rather than letting the economy to continue to struggle without help until next year. Pelosi’s response was to gather statements from a host of committee chairmen criticizing the administration’s latest offer.

“If Congress doesn’t act, the next president will inherit a real mess,” said Harvard economist Jason Furman, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama. “If the Mnuchin offer could be passed by the Senate — which is a huge “if” — that would be a lot better than waiting to get even more in January.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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