Satirical newspaper The Onion published a story Friday saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had announced they would be meeting to put the final touches on a 1,000-piece “Starry Night” jigsaw puzzle.
“We really want to get his puzzle done before the election, but it’s also important not to rush things and jam pieces of the night sky together that don’t actually fit,” the two officials supposedly said. “It’s true that we hoped to get the puzzle done faster when we started in June, but even working on it day and night, it takes time to assemble so many pieces. There are still some sticking points, like whether a few of the border pieces are lost for good or whether they’re just in a couch cushion somewhere in the Oval Office, but as soon as we find those and finish the cypress tree, we’ll be all ready to present it to the public.”
That fake news might be more encouraging than the current reality, where the two sides have reverted to finger-pointing, suggesting that a deal before the November elections 11 days away could be reached if only the other side would compromise.
“We could do that before the election, if the president wants to,” Pelosi told MSNBC on Friday.
Mnuchin told reporters that the two sides had made significant progress, but put the onus on Pelosi for further movement. “We’ve offered compromises,” he said. “The speaker, on a number of issues, is still dug in. If she wants to compromise, there will be a deal.”
Both Pelosi and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said they remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached soon. “Hopefully we can get a deal in the next day or so,” Meadows said. “We’re still working through it, Secretary Mnuchin and I have talked and we’re still working with her teams, but actually making adjustments and trying to look at language to reach a compromise.”
But President Trump on Friday again criticized Pelosi’s insistence on additional aid to state and local governments, claiming that the speaker “wants to bail out poorly run Democrat states” (even though governors of red states have also called for aid). Trump again accused Pelosi of not wanting a deal before voters cast their ballots.
A new wrinkle: With many Senate Republicans opposed to relief spending along the lines of the roughly $2 trillion package being negotiated, some House Democrats have reportedly told Pelosi that they don’t want to vote on legislation before the election unless she gets assurances that the Senate will as well. Pelosi said Friday that Trump would have to convince members of his party. “The fact is that the president has been back and forth: ‘Stop the negotiations,’ ‘Oh, I want more money than Nancy,’ ‘I hope she’ll agree with me,’” she said. “But he has to talk to the Senate Republicans.”
What it all means: Despite some faint hope that a deal might come together, it’s looking less and less likely that anything will get done before the elections. “The ball is not moving much right now,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Bloomberg Television. “It’s very difficult. The clock is ticking ... Even if you had a deal in the next few days, you have to go through committee print and have votes in House and Senate. It’s not going to be easy.”
Or as The Wall Street Journal’s Nick Timiraos put it: “The stimulus talks: No one wants to hang up the phone even if there’s not much more to say.”
The numerous issues that still must be worked out mean that another relief bill might have to wait until 2021. Lawmakers could still consider coronavirus relief measures in the lame duck session after the election, when they will also have to pass a new spending bill by December 11. But the election results could complicate any lame duck legislation.
“Putting off votes on a stimulus package until after the election raises the risk that the Trump administration will be less inclined or able to push a package through the GOP Senate,” Bloomberg News reported Friday. “That likely would be amplified if Trump loses to Democrat Joe Biden and Republicans lose their Senate majority -- leaving action on stimulus for the pandemic-stricken U.S. economy until late January at the earliest.”