After unsuccessful attempts to reach a deal on a coronavirus stimulus package before the election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled Thursday that she hopes to pass additional aid during the lame-duck session in Congress as cases again surge around the U.S.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been locked in a series of negotiations over the past few weeks with both parties expressing optimism and saying they made considerable progress. But prospects for a deal before Nov. 3 dimmed amid ongoing disagreements on several provisions like state and local aid, language surrounding expanded coronavirus testing and liability protections for businesses.
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cNow with the presidential race five days away, Pelosi said she’s “confident” about Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s chances and would want to give him a “clean slate” if he wins and assumes office in January. She detailed a busy agenda for a potential Biden administration and Democratic House, saying they’d focus on among other things infrastructure, a campaign finance reform bill that previously passed the House but stalled in the GOP-led Senate and lower costs for prescription drugs.
But Pelosi emphasized that her caucus wouldn’t accept just any bill in the lame-duck session which runs through the end of the year – even if Biden wins the White House. The California Democrat rebuffed a question about whether she’d accept a smaller, narrower bill before the end of the year with the likelihood of getting additional relief under a President Biden.
“We’re not talking size, we’re talking quality. We are not going to take a small bill that has the bulk of reinforcing funds to the richest people in America while questioning the integrity of people on unemployment insurance,” Pelosi said at her Thursday press conference, the last one before Tuesday’s elections.
“I want a bill for two reasons: The American people need real help. And second of all, we have plenty of work to do in a Joe Biden administration,” she added. “We want to have as clean a slate as possible going into January.”
Discussions about a possible lame-duck deal come as the U.S. nears 9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and a death toll of more than 228,000.
Pelosi isn’t the only one hoping for a deal in the near future. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly waffled on pursuing another virus relief package, also says he wants to strike a deal following the election, promising that “we’ll get the best stimulus package you’ve ever seen.”
But the president has gone back and forth on another coronavirus package – first calling off bipartisan negotiations, then urging negotiators to pass a bill before the election and now saying that a stimulus deal will be reached in the lame-duck session, though it may no longer be one supported by both parties. Trump has recently predicted that Republicans will take back the House, but election prognosticators believe that Democrats are on track to not only keep their majority but also potentially expand it.
“Once we get past the election, we’re going to get it. It may be bipartisan, it may not have to be. Depending on if we win the House, it won’t have to be. Right after the election, we’ll get it one way or the other,” Trump said in an interview for television host Jon Taffer’s podcast.
In the absence of a deal, both sides are pointing fingers at one another for the current lapse before Election Day.
Pelosi sent a letter to Mnuchin on Thursday morning, saying she’s “still awaiting” responses from him on a number of provisions, including a national coronavirus testing strategy. Mnuchin shot back that the early-morning letter was also quickly sent to the press, calling it a “political stunt.”
But at Thursday’s press conference, Pelosi argued that they’ve been negotiating in good faith and wouldn’t continue talks with the administration if Democrats weren’t serious about a deal.
To be sure, there are a lot of variables at play when it comes to the dynamics of the lame-duck session as well as Congress’ appetite for another relief package. Republicans will still hold the White House and Senate in the lame duck, but they could be governing on the heels of a change in power if Biden defeats Trump and if Democrats take the Senate for the first time in six years. And lawmakers could be juggling a potential coronavirus bill with another deadline in mid-December to fund the government and avoid a shutdown.
One of the biggest obstacles to passing another relief package has been Senate Republicans, who have been lukewarm or categorically opposed to passing another multitrillion-dollar bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had dismissed the likelihood of a deal before the election due to resistance in his conference, and it’s unclear how much that could shift in the lame duck. And unlike the optimism of the negotiators, McConnell had cast the talks in a much different light than Pelosi and Mnuchin, telling Politico in a recent interview, “Depending on who you talk to, I’m not sure they got very close.”
But if Biden wins the upcoming presidential race, Democrats will have an ally in the White House who says he wants more COVID-19 aid. In a recent speech outlining his recovery plan, the former vice president said he’d ask the newly installed Congress to have a bill on his desk by the end of January, shortly after he would assume office. But Biden didn’t specify if he wanted a bill in the event that Congress can’t pass one in the lame duck or if he’s seeking supplemental legislation to address the pandemic.