McConnell plans vote on narrow economic relief measure while Trump urges lawmakers to ‘Go big or go home!!!’

Source: By Jeff Stein and Erica Werner, Washington Post • Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The GOP strategy continues to shift just three weeks before the election; Pelosi defends stance in contentious interview


United States Senator Mitch McConnell at The US Capitol in Washington D.C. September 30, 2020.

(Photo by Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on Tuesday that the Senate will take up a narrow economic relief bill when it comes back in session next week. President Trump immediately undermined the move, writing on Twitter: “STIMULUS! Go big or go home!!!”

The clashing messages were a stark display of GOP disunity just three weeks before the November election, as Senate Republicans balk at a $1.8 trillion relief package Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has offered to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Trump, though, has suggested Republicans should agree to an even bigger deal than what Democrats have offered.

Pelosi has already rejected Mnuchin’s offer as completely inadequate, criticism she repeated Tuesday in a letter to House Democrats where she wrote, “Tragically, the Trump proposal falls significantly short of what this pandemic and deep recession demand.”

“A fly on the wall or wherever else it might land in the Oval Office tells me that the President only wants his name on a check to go out before Election Day and for the market to go up,” Pelosi wrote. “The American people want us to have an agreement to protect lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy. Democrats are determined to do so!”

Pelosi later got into a fiery argument on CNN with host Wolf Blitzer who pressed her on why she wouldn’t take the $1.8 trillion Mnuchin deal. Blitzer argued that Americans need it and pointed out that some Democrats in her own caucus want it done.

“I don’t know why you’re always an apologist and many of your colleagues are apologists for the Republican position,” Pelosi responded.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Blitzer chided her.

“It is nowhere near perfect … we’re not even close to the good,” Pelosi retorted.

Pelosi outlined some of the differences between what Democrats want and what the administration is proposing, and told Blitzer: “With all due respect you really don’t what you’re talking about.”

The developments reinforced the vanishing prospects for any kind of relief legislation to pass ahead of the election, even though Pelosi and Mnuchin are continuing to negotiate.

Meanwhile McConnell will try again to pass a much more limited proposal, something he already attempted last month. Democrats blocked it at the time and may do so again with the new bill, which seems like it will be similar to the last one.

The new bill will cost roughly $500 billion and will include provisions to extend enhanced unemployment insurance and the small business Paycheck Protection Program, as well as money for hospitals and schools, among other things. McConnell discussed it at an event Tuesday in Kentucky, where he is campaigning for re-election.

Although McConnell is not considered vulnerable in his race, he has come under scathing criticism from his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath, for Congress’ failure to enact new relief legislation since the spring, when lawmakers rushed through four bipartisan bills totaling around $3 trillion.

At a debate Monday night, McGrath accused McConnell of an “absolute dereliction of duty” for failing to pass a new relief bill even as he jams through a Supreme Court nomination. McConnell blamed Democrats for the inaction, saying Pelosi doesn’t really want a deal.

“The point is why can’t we sensibly come together and agree to go after what the actual needs are and that’s what my bill is designed to do,” McConnell said Tuesday.

“The choice is do you want to do something or nothing. So far they have said if we can’t do everything we want to do we won’t do anything,” McConnell said. “That doesn’t solve the problem.”

Holding a floor vote on a narrow relief package could give cover to endangered Senate Republicans while putting Democrats on the spot as a bipartisan package remains out of reach. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) had no immediate comment on what Democrats would do. Democrats blocked the slimmed-down package McConnell tried to advance last month, calling it woefully inadequate because it omitted provisions like new $1,200 stimulus checks.

Even if it were to pass the Senate such legislation would face almost certain death in the House.

The White House’s messaging on economic relief plans has become extremely muddied in recent days. At one point last week Trump called off talks completely, then announced they were restarting. Mnuchin and chief of staff Mark Meadows have recently said Congress should at least approve a smaller-scale deal, similar to what McConnell appears to now be pursuing. But Trump has consistently called for a giant package, saying last week that he wanted more new spending than even the $2.2 trillion package that Democrats had sought so far.

Still, a Senate vote on a targeted relief package could put some Democrats in the uncomfortable position of voting against financial aid that enjoys wide bipartisan support. More than a dozen moderate Democrats in the House have suggested support for a Republican-led plan to could force a floor vote on a stand-alone PPP bill, but that effort may not have enough votes to succeed.

Some economists and business leaders have expressed alarm about the costs of the logjam in Congress, with major airline carriers, restaurants, and hotels bracing for steep cuts and layoffs without additional federal aid. Congress allowed a $600 per week federal unemployment benefit for millions to expire at the end of July, although an executive action by the White House provided short-term relief of $300 per week to the unemployed in most states. The funding created by the executive order is mostly spent, said Michele Evermore, a national unemployment expert at the National Employment Law Project.

“There are millions of people in a desperate position right now,” Evermore said. “And without further action, this economic pain will spill out into the community.”

House Democrats have almost uniformly backed Pelosi’s approach to negotiations with the White House. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has called for Democrats to approve an agreement if the White House approves Democrats’ testing strategy, but so far has been largely a lone voice.