Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer, And McCarthy Set For Pivotal Stimulus Meeting Ahead Of Friday Shutdown Deadline

Topline

With time running out in the 2020 legislative session, four top Congressional leaders—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)—are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the next federal coronavirus aid package and the omnibus federal budget bill.

Key Facts

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been representing the White House in aid talks, will also participate, Politico’s Jake Sherman reported. 

The meeting could be an optimistic sign for the fraught relief discussions in Washington, which have been stalled for months and marked by an absence of face to face negotiations involving all the key players.  

The leaders will presumably need to grapple with the two thorniest issues holding up the talks so far: state and local aid and liability protections from Covid-19 lawsuits for businesses. 

A bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers was unable to resolve those issues among themselves and instead introduced on Monday a proposal that would hive off these two issues from less controversial relief provisions like supplemental unemployment benefits and small business funding. 

It’s not clear whether the Democrats will be willing to support a plan that includes liability protections they believe put workers at risk even if that is sweetened by the inclusion of state aid, especially given Pelosi’s Monday statements (as reported by her spokesman Drew Hammill) to Mnuchin reiterating her concerns about the liability provisions.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)—the number two Democrat in that chamber—has signaled that he would be willing to vote for a package that excluded state and local aid, and McConnell has floated eliminating the now linked state aid and liability provisions from the current bill to expedite a deal before Congress adjourns for Christmas.

Crucial Quote

“We have to move forward on the $748 billion that we all agree on,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told CNN Tuesday morning. Coons was referring to the bipartisan bill that excludes state and local aid and liability protections, and added that he had not received any assurance from McConnell that the contentious sister bill including $160 billion in state, local and tribal aid would even be brought to the Senate floor for a vote. 

Key Background

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week offered a $916 billion plan on behalf of the White House that he said has McConnell’s support. That plan includes both state and local aid and liability protections for businesses and schools as well as another round of stimulus checks, this time for $600. Top Democrats have called the White House plan “unacceptable” because it does not include additional supplemental unemployment benefits. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) noted on the Senate floor Tuesday morning that he was “encouraged” by the work of the bipartisan group, noting that their $908 billion proposal was “along the lines” of what McConnell has endorsed. 

Tangent

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have also called for any relief bill that passes to include another round of $1,200 direct payments, which were excluded from the bipartisan plan to keep costs down. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated President Trump’s support for a second round of stimulus checks during a press briefing Tuesday.

What To Watch For

Pelosi, McConnell, and Mnuchin are contending with a Friday government shutdown deadline, before which they’ll need to either pass an omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2021 (which began October 1) or a short term continuing resolution (what would be the third of the year) to keep the lights on and buy themselves more time. The hope is that the next round of coronavirus aid legislation would be attached to that $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill, which could be finalized as early as Tuesday.

Further Reading

Warren Buffett On Stimulus Gridlock: ‘Just Renew The PPP And Get Us To The End Of The Tunnel’ (Forbes)

Unable To Bridge Gap On Toughest Issues, Bipartisan Negotiators ‘Implore’ Congress To Vote Now On Parts Of $908 Billion Stimulus Plan (Forbes)

Bipartisan Lawmakers Finally Ready To Release $908 Billion Stimulus Bill, But The Plan Is Far From A Done Deal (Forbes)

Talks On Stimulus Package Deadlock On State And Local Aid Despite Assurances Of Progress (Forbes)

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