The GOP leader said that he still believes a bill of about $500 billion is the way to go, even though Senate Democrats have repeatedly rejected his proposal. He said the improving economy only makes it clearer the Senate should do something “highly targeted at what the residual problems are.”
“I gather [Pelosi] and the Democratic leader in the Senate still are looking at something dramatically larger. That’s not a place I think we’re willing to go,” McConnell said. “But I do think there needs to be another package. Hopefully we can get past the impasse we’ve had now for four or five months and get serious.”
That leaves no clear way forward on the negotiations, even as the country sees record infections and a rise in hospitalizations and deaths from the virus. Pelosi’s talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faltered in late October, and they have not spoken since the election.
The fate of Congress’ next pandemic relief bill was a prominent topic in a call Thursday between President-elect Joe Biden, Pelosi and Schumer.
The three Democrats “discussed the urgent need for the Congress to come together in the lame duck session,” according to a joint statement after the call. Among their priorities is support for state and local governments — an issue that remains a major sticking point with Republicans — as well as expanded unemployment insurance and resources to fight the pandemic.
The stalemate is frustrating centrists, who still think there’s a way out. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Senate Democrats should simply advance the Senate GOP’s bill to drive a compromise with the Democratic House. She added that she’s talked to Mnuchin and he’s “still working it.”
“Then we could go to conference, as we would have in the good old days, and work out the differences between the House and Senate bills. And that return to normal order, to me, is the easiest route, the quickest route, to getting an agreement,” Collins said.
Senate Republicans appear favored to keep the majority next year unless Democrats can run the table in two Georgia runoff races. That gives McConnell little apparent incentive to come up to Pelosi and Schumer’s demands. But Democrats have made clear they would not scale back their ambitions for a broader package.
Pelosi has said she has no interest in a stimulus deal that is only $500 billion. Standing next to Pelosi at the Thursday news conference, Schumer called McConnell’s approach “emaciated.”
“Our position is the same it has been all along,” Pelosi told reporters when asked if her position had changed since the election. “We’re at the same place. Even more so.”
Pelosi and her top deputies have come under pressure from the centrist faction of their caucus to make a deal with the White House, with some Democrats saying they’d be willing to consider a series of piecemeal bills. Those calls have resurfaced after an election that cost House Democrats seats, with moderates urging immediate action as coronavirus cases surge.
“The question is, to do something or nothing. The idea that you’d go back to your district with a lump of coal instead of help for families and small businesses is beyond unacceptable,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus. “Everyone’s just going to have to stay here until we figure this out.”
California Rep. Ami Bera, a member of the moderate New Democrats Coalition, said he expected the final cost of a deal to land somewhere in between the two parties’ proposals, and that Congress needed to move swiftly.
“I don’t think we can wait until Jan. 20,” he said in an interview. “We’ve got folks who are standing in food lines or having trouble paying their rent. We’re about to enter the worst phase of this pandemic.”
But the majority of the House Democratic caucus would likely refuse to advance a slimmer package now, especially with Biden just months from taking office. Many Democrats still believe they can reach a better deal with a president of their own party, even with a shrunken majority in the House.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is concentrating more on President Donald Trump’s legal fights to overturn the election results than a new stimulus bill. After months of talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi, there’s been little apparent movement since October.
Shelby said he spoke to Pelosi about the stimulus and spending bills on Wednesday. Government funding expires on Dec. 11 without action, and Shelby said they could handle that after Thanksgiving.
If there was a stimulus bill with broad support, it could be attached to the spending package. But that might be a pipe dream.
“They might not get a stimulus. They want a lot more than we’ll give. If they want a targeted bill for small businesses … I think we could get that. But if they want what they’ve indicated they want, that won’t happen,” Shelby said.
Even as some jobs return, millions remain unemployed. Democrats have warned for months that a delay in passing new relief could undermine the economy, though deficit-minded Republicans have resisted another massive package after passing one in the spring. Several Democrats have also voiced concern that waiting to pass another stimulus bill could hamper the early months of Biden’s presidency in an even more deadlocked Congress.