Relief Negotiations Stall As Pandemic Rages On

Returning from August recess this week for its final legislative session before the November election, Congress faces two major issues – COVID-19 relief and keeping the government open after the fiscal year expires September 30.

Negotiations over coronavirus relief legislation are stalled as the two sides remain at least $900 billion apart in their offers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Democrats stand at $2.2 trillion, while the Administration has refused to go above $1.3 trillion. Speaker Pelosi reported a recent call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin yielded no agreement.

Senate Republicans are aiming to release and vote on a $500 billion “skinny” measure as soon as this week, which is expected to include:

  • A $300 weekly boost in federal unemployment benefits until December 27,
  • Additional funds for the Paycheck Protection Program,
  • An additional $10 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, and
  • Liability protections for businesses, schools and other institutions.

Democrats oppose the “skinny” package, which they see as a paltry effort to provide political cover for vulnerable Senate Republicans up for election. Some fiscally conservative Senate Republicans who have voiced opposition to any additional economic stimulus could also oppose the skinny bill.

Concerned about being blamed for triggering a government shutdown weeks before an election, Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin agreed last week not to use the threat of a shutdown to advance other issues such as COVID relief. Instead, they reached an understanding on a short-term funding resolution free of controversial issues that would keep the government operating at current funding levels past the fast-approaching September 30 deadline.