The faint hopes that were raised last week for another coronavirus relief package faded very quickly, as congressional Republicans and Democrats both rejected a $1.8 trillion White House proposal, leading Trump administration officials to again change their approach to the stimulus talks.
Republicans revolt over White House offer: On a Saturday conference call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a number of Senate Republicans reportedly blasted the relief package that had been approved by President Trump, criticizing both the overall cost and specific components. “The voices were loud and angry,” Politico reports. The blowback was so strong that Meadows at one point reportedly told the group that they would “have to come to my funeral” after he conveyed their adamant opposition to the president.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), meanwhile, dismissed the proposal as “grossly inadequate.” She said that the plans for coronavirus testing, tracing and treatment in the White House offer were “wholly insufficient” and that the proposals for unemployment insurance, aid to state and local governments, child care and tax credits also fell short.
“It is hard to understand who is shaping their approach, which to date has been a miserable and deadly failure,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats on Sunday. “Until these serious issues are resolved, we remain at an impasse.”
Pelosi also faces some pushback from her members, with Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and others pressing her to take the White House offer. “Make a deal & put the ball in McConnell court,” Khanna tweeted.
White House pivots again: In a letter to the House and Senate on Sunday, Mnuchin and Meadows called for lawmakers to immediately take up a narrower bill that would reportedly allow small businesses to apply for a second round of forgivable loans, using the roughly $130 billion in untapped funds from the Paycheck Protection Program.
“Now is the time for us to come together and immediately vote on a bill to allow us to spend the unused Paycheck Protection Program funds while we continue to work toward a comprehensive package,” they wrote. “The all-or-nothing approach is an unacceptable response to the American people.”
No clear path forward: “The shift in strategy from the White House caps a week in which the president and his negotiators adopted a dizzying number of different approaches to securing a relief package through Congress,” The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Erica Werner reported Sunday. But this latest proposal is no more likely to succeed, even as lawmakers in both parties support extending the Paycheck Protection Program. Pelosi has dismissed the idea of piecemeal legislation, arguing that a broader relief effort is needed.
Trump himself now appears to be pressing for a larger package, too, calling on Republicans Monday to cut short Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett so they could turn their focus to a stimulus deal.
"The Republicans are giving the Democrats a great deal of time, which is not mandated, to make their self serving statements relative to our great new future Supreme Court Justice," he wrote on Twitter. “Personally, I would pull back, approve, and go for STIMULUS for the people!!"
Democrats, criticizing what they called a rushed confirmation process, also argued that lawmakers should be spending their time on coronavirus relief.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the Democratic vice presidential nominee and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, castigated Republicans for pushing ahead with the confirmation while not taking up a House-passed coronavirus relief bill, leaving the aid package in limbo. “Senate Republicans have made it crystal clear that rushing a Supreme Court nomination is more important than helping an supporting the American people who are suffering from a deadly pandemic and a devastating economic crisis,” she said.
Will Trump try to squeeze GOP senators? White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Sunday that Trump may still press for a larger relief package — and suggested that, despite ample evidence to the contrary, Senate Republicans would go along with the president. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany made similar comments on Monday. “I believe Senate Republicans will ultimately come along with what the president wants — the president noted that yesterday,” she told Fox News. “We believe Senate Republicans are not what’s blocking this. It is Democrats.”
Trump undercut that message in a Monday afternoon tweet: “Republicans should be strongly focused on completing a wonderful stimulus package for the American People!”
The bottom line: Pelosi and Mnuchin are expected to talk more this week, but the chances of a relief package passing before the election were slim to begin with and they keep shrinking with each passing day. As Politico said Sunday: “Republicans aren’t taking issue with a policy or two, they’re taking issue with the entire package, the number, the scope and the policies. There doesn’t appear to be a middle ground here.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told lawmakers Monday that “no votes are expected in the House this week.”