WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The possibility of seeing a new federal coronavirus aid package that includes a second stimulus check before the November election does not look promising.
Lawmakers are at a stalemate. Last week, Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package as the parties argued over the size and scope of the aid.
Despite the fact that both sides of the aisle have voiced support for another round of $1,200 direct payments as part of a relief package, it doesn’t appear lawmakers will be able to deliver them during election-season political combat.
The panicked atmosphere that drove passage of the $2 trillion landmark CARES Act in March has dissipated as the nation powers through the pandemic with partial reopenings of businesses and schools, though the economy lags and the virus continues to disrupt life in the U.S.
President Donald Trump has made stimulus checks a regular talking point while discussing aid — even saying he hoped to provide American families with more financial support than the original round of direct payments.
However, it’s becoming clear that all Congress will do before the Nov. 3 election is pass legislation to avert a government shutdown. The outcome of the election promises to have an outsize impact on what might be possible in a postelection lame-duck session, with Democrats sure to press for a better deal if Democrat Joe Biden unseats President Donald Trump.
Despite little movement, negotiators on both sides say they’re hopeful something can happen. However, there’s no indication bipartisan talks that crumbled last month will restart.
“I think there’s many areas of this where there is an agreement between Democrats and Republicans,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a Monday interview with CNBC. “There are some areas where we have differences on the amounts. But I will continue to work on this. I told (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) I’m available anytime to negotiate.”
On Friday, Pelosi told CNN she still hoped for a deal.
Top lawmakers and aides offered glum assessments both publicly and privately.
Veteran Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said it’s “sad” there will be no virus aid deal, though he also said the outlook for the economy may not be as bleak as he once thought.
“If you’d asked me two or three weeks ago I’d say very, very negative,” Grassley said. But with the job market improving and “the whole world kind of getting out of this pandemic, (this) depression, we’re in” Grassley said, there’s “a lot less of an impact than I would have thought two weeks ago.”
The stalemate is politically risky for all sides heading into the fall election, and both sides accused the other of acting primarily with political calculations in mind. Democrats said GOP senators need to “check a box” and vote on any kind of relief bill before exiting Washington to campaign while Republicans said Democrats were intent on denying Republicans a political win.
“What is of overwhelming importance to Democrats is keeping coronavirus alive as a political issue,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “They’d rather have no bill, zero funding and a political weapon than have a bill and allow Republicans to say that we helped Americans.”
All that’s left – barring a breakthrough that looks unlikely now – is to pass a government-wide short-term spending measure that would avert a shutdown at month’s end and set up a postelection lame-duck session to deal with any unfinished Capitol Hill legislation, which could include coronavirus relief.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.