WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Though headlines that President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are making progress on a new round of federal coronavirus relief might sound optimistic, Washington insiders warn a deal this close to Election Day is highly unlikely.
We’ve seen a wild back-and-forth this week when it comes to a relief package that both GOP and Democratic leaders say would include new stimulus payments to most Americans.
On Friday, the White House boosted its COVID-19 aid offer, even as Trump’s most powerful GOP ally in the Senate said Congress is unlikely to deliver relief by then.
A GOP aide familiar with the new offer said it is about $1.8 trillion, with a key state and local fiscal relief component moving from $250 billion to at least $300 billion. The White House says its most recent prior offer was about $1.6 trillion. The aide requested anonymity because the negotiations are private.
“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering,” Trump said on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show Friday.
Earlier this week, Trump lambasted Democrats for their demands on an aid bill. On Tuesday, he ordered an end to the weekslong talks after being told that few Republicans in Congress would end up voting for a possible deal between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
After taking blowback for that decision, Trump sought to revive the negotiations Thursday. Yet even as Mnuchin was reengaging with Pelosi, staffers in the White House — working under chief of staff Mark Meadows, a key negotiator — were issuing demands for a smaller package stuffed with Trump’s priorities.
Normally, the high stakes and splintered politics ahead of an election could provide grounds for a robust package. But with other Republicans refusing to spend more money, it appears no relief will be coming with Americans already beginning early voting.
Democrats have made it clear they will not do a piecemeal approach until the Trump administration signs off on a broader, comprehensive plan they are proposing for virus testing, tracing and other actions to stop its spread. They have scaled back a $3 trillion measure to a $2.2 trillion proposal.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told an audience in Kentucky that he doesn’t see a deal coming together soon out of a “murky” situation in which the participants in the negotiations are elbowing for political advantage.
“I’d like to see us rise above that like we did in March and April but I think it’s unlikely in the next three weeks,” McConnell said. McConnell said later that “the first item of priority of the Senate is the Supreme Court,” suggesting there isn’t time to both process a COVID relief bill and the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the 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 in a period where the president can’t publicly campaign.
If a deal isn’t reached ahead of November 3, lawmakers would have a tight window to reach bipartisan consensus on a package and get payments to Americans before the end of 2020. Based on the congressional calendar, there are only a few days when the Senate and House are in Washington at the same time to approve legislation.
It’s possible lawmakers would need to be called back or vote remotely to approve a bill.
If that happens, it will likely take 2-3 weeks to get payments from the approval process into mailboxes or bank accounts. If that were to happen as late as December, it’s possible that timeline would need to be expanded due to the holiday season.
To ensure Americans get a check before the end of 2020, you should pencil Thanksgiving on your calendar. If a deal is cut before the turkey is sliced, it’s possible you could see relief before the end of the year. Anything later than that, and the timeline gets a little more difficult.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.