With issues such as the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg now dominating the attention in Washington, hopes continue to fade that United States lawmakers will be able to pass a pre-election coronavirus relief package – and, with it, potentially a second stimulus check.
Agreement over stimulus check, but relief-bill talks at impasse
US President Donald Trump has stated his support for another round of stimulus checks, while Republicans and Democrats in Congress have both proposed that Americans receive a fresh direct payment, following on from the checks sent out as part of the CARES Act, a $2.2tn relief bill signed into law in March.
Democrats sought a second check of up to $1,200 in the $3.4 HEROES Act, a bill passed by the House in May but not taken up by the Republican-held Senate. Meanwhile, the GOP planned a stimulus check of the same amount in the $1tn HEALS Act, a relief proposal unveiled by Republican senators in July.
However, agreeing an overall relief package has proved more difficult, with talks between Democratic congressional leaders and White House chiefs at an impasse since early August. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have said they are willing to drop the $3.4 spend in the HEROES Act to $2.2tn, while Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have said the White House can go as high as $1.3tn to $1.5tn. That’s a gap of almost $1tn.
GOP accuses Dems of holding up relief until after election
Republicans in the Senate this month also failed with a $500bn ‘skinny’ relief package (which did not include a second check), after the proposal was blocked by Democrats in a procedural vote. The Dems have consistently opposed what they call “piecemeal” legislation, and are holding out for a comprehensive bill.
Republicans capitalized on the defeat of their pared-down bill to accuse the Democrats of trying to avoid passing economic relief before the presidential and congressional elections, in what they claim is a bid to hurt Trump and the GOP’s chances in November’s vote. “Their goal is clear,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted. “No help for American families before the election.”
Bipartisan lawmakers try to break stimulus-talks deadlock
Amid frustration over the stimulus logjam, the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, sought to jump-start the process last Tuesday by unveiling a relief proposal worth a potential $2tn. The “framework” plan is not expected to be voted on, said the Problem Solvers – who are made up of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans – but instead aims to “help break the gridlock on the latest Covid-19 relief package and encourage negotiators to get back to the table”.
Trump hinted at a willingness to move closer to Democrats’ desired outlay when he tweeted a call for “higher numbers” in a coronavirus relief package last week – remarks that led Pelosi and Schumer to say in a statement: “We look forward to hearing from the president’s negotiators that they will finally meet us halfway with a bill that is equal to the massive health and economic crises gripping our nation.”
Speaking in the wake of Trump’s remarks, meanwhile, Meadows told CNBC last Wednesday that he was “probably more optimistic about the potential for a deal in the last 72 hours than I have been in the last 72 days.”
Ginsburg death shifts focus to Supreme Court fight
However, the death of Ginsburg on Friday has now turned the focus of both Republicans and Democrats firmly to a bipartisan struggle over her replacement in the Supreme Court, as Trump and the GOP race to fill the liberal judge’s seat with a conservative before the election. With a government funding bill also on the agenda in what was already a busy September schedule, Bloomberg notes that the addition of a battle over the Supreme Court has led “stimulus prospects to darken”.
Experts not optimistic bill will go through before election
Although the House is scheduled to go on recess on 2 October to allow lawmakers to focus on the elections, Pelosi has said the chamber will remain in session until a bill has been agreed. Nevertheless, experts remain pessimistic over the chances of a package going through before Americans go to the polls.
Per Forbes, economists at Wells Fargo Securities believe there is only a one-in-four chance that the sides can reach a compromise in time. “Ultimately, we think the prospects for [pre-election relief legislation] are unlikely, as the current position of the two parties appears to be a bridge too far,” says Michael Pugliese of WFS.
Tamara Fucile, a senior adviser for government affairs at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, agrees that it “doesn’t feel like we’re going to get a deal”. “The closer you get to the election, I think the harder it is”, she was quoted as saying by AARP.