Congress Unlikely to Reach COVID Relief Deal Before Election Day

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Hopes that Congress will pass a second coronavirus relief package by Election Day look bleaker and bleaker.

Back in March, Congress passed the bipartisan CARES Act, which led to many American receiving a $1,200 direct payment from the government. Additionally, the package offered aid to many small businesses in anticipation of the pandemic’s economic toll. But Republicans, Democrats, and the White House have been at a stalemate ever since over a second comprehensive bill to address the ongoing consequences of the global crisis.

HEROES and HEALS

In May, the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives passed the HEROES Act, an aid package with a $3.4 trillion price tag that, among other provisions, allowed for a second $1,200 payment to qualified Americans. But Republican leadership in the Senate balked at the bill, accusing it of being an expensive “Democratic wish list” as opposed to a realistic stimulus package.

Subsequently, Senate Republicans released their own relief bill, dubbed the HEALS Act, with a significantly smaller $1 trillion budget. While this pared-down bill does not include key provisions of the Democratic plan, namely, $600 weekly benefits for those who have become unemployed due to the pandemic, it does include the $1,200 individual stimulus checks.

But negotiations between Democrats and Republicans have remained at an impasse. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Check Schumer, the highest-ranking Democrats in Congress, have expressed willingness to reduce the cost of the HEROES Act to $2.2 trillion, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows say that the Trump Administration is only willing to go as high as $1.5 trillion. In other words, a gap of $700 billion has caused a stalemate between parties.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans introduced an alternative “skinny stimulus,” which costs only $500 billion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the bill would address some urgent concerns, while allowing negotiations to continue on a more comprehensive package. But Democrats have refused to approve any piecemeal legislation, insisting instead on a single, sweeping package. In response, Republicans have accused their Democratic colleagues of purposely sabotaging any relief effort as a means of hurting Republican prospects in the November election.

Moving On?

But Washington has already shifted much of its attention to another pending issue: the Supreme Court seat made vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As President Trump and Leader McConnell prioritize the confirmation of a replacement before November 3rd, it looks like reaching a compromise on COVID relief might take a backseat for now. Apparently, Congress cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.

Meanwhile, a group of 34 Democratic and Republican lawmakers have petitioned leadership not to allow Congressmembers to leave Washington in October until they have nailed down a stimulus deal. Members of Congress are currently slated to return to their districts in October to campaign for reelection, and attend to local matters. But even if they are permitted to flee Capitol Hill, many will likely face criticism from constituents suffering from the lack of federal relief.

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