Today's the day to make or break a second stimulus package on Capitol Hill. To kick it off, President Donald J. Trump went on "Fox and Friends" this morning (Oct. 20) to say he's willing to give Democrats a blank check to get stimulus check 2 in the works before Election Day.
"Let me just explain," Trump said, according to the Fox Business website. "I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats. Not every Republican agrees, but they will. I want to do it even bigger, because this is money going to people who did not deserve what happened to them."
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to keep negotiating today over a compromise bill.
Pelosi, who has stuck firm to her number of $2.2 trillion, said over the weekend that unless a deal is reached today, a bill can't be passed by Nov. 3. The White House has come up to about $1.9 trillion, but there are still significant differences between the two sides in how to spend the money.
Like Trump, Pelosi wants a bill done by Election Day, Politico reported.
"I don't want to carry over the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency," she reportedly said on a conference call with House committee chairmen. "We've got to get something big and we've got it done soon and we've got to get it done right."
The voters demand it, the Senate opposes it
Trump and Pelosi are right that America wants a fat second stimulus check. The results of a New York Times/Siena College poll released today show that 72% of likely voters support "a new $2 trillion stimulus package," while only 21% oppose such a bill.
Unfortunately for them, many Senate Republicans are in that 21%. Politico reports that opposition to a large stimulus bill in that chamber isn't softening even as Pelosi and Mnuchin edge closer to a deal.
"It would divide Republicans if it's anything like the kind of contours we hear about," Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) told Politico.
Even if all 47 Democratic and Democratic-leaning senators voted for a large stimulus bill, they would still need 13 Republicans to join them — perhaps a tall order.
"I think we're going to have a hard time finding 13 votes for anything," Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-South Dakota) told Politico, adding that most Republicans' "natural instinct" would be "to be against it."
Thune's boss, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), promised over the weekend to "consider" any deal the White House reached with Pelosi. But he didn't say he'd bring it to a floor vote.
Trump told "Fox and Friends" that he would be glad to have "all the votes you can get, whether it's Democrat or Republican."
Going through the motions
Yet McConnell won't be eager to introduce a bill that a majority of Republican senators oppose. And with Trump slumping in the polls two weeks before Election Day, many GOP senators may feel that they don't owe the president any more favors.
Instead, the Senate is expected to vote today on a Republican "skinny" bill that would spend $500 billion on forgivable loans to small businesses, but not fund any new stimulus checks.
The GOP bill would also grant businesses liability protection from coronavirus-related lawsuits. Democrats are dead set against the latter provision, and like a previous Senate "skinny" bill that died quickly, this one isn't expected to get far.
It's too early to blame McConnell or the Senate GOP if the stimulus bill fails to happen. Pelosi and Mnuchin are divided not only over the liability protection for businesses, but also over the amount of money to go to cash-strapped state and local governments.
Both sides agree on the need for eligible taxpayers to get a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks. But they can't reach a consensus on restarting the federal supplements to state unemployment checks, which ran out at the end of July, reports the Washington Post. Pelosi wants to restart them at the original $600 weekly level; Mnuchin is offering $400 per week.
To give an idea of how difficult these negotiations are, Politico reports that Pelosi and Mnuchin handed part of the negotiations, on which both sides had already come close, to the staffs of the House and Senate appropriations committees to finalize the details.
Committee staffers "frequently [work] out issues like this with no sweat," Politico's Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer wrote. But the staffers "met for an hour Monday afternoon and found themselves immediately deadlocked."