WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — With the election — or at least the voting process — behind us, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expressing optimism about striking a deal on coronavirus relief that both Democrats and President Donald Trump hope includes a second direct payment.
Most insiders felt a coronavirus relief deal wasn’t possible right before an election in which both Republicans and Democrats could claim the payments as a victory — and Trump’s name would be etched on physical checks.
With that process largely behind us but the winner of the presidential race unclear, McConnell seems ready to move forward.
“We need another rescue package,” he told reporters Wednesday morning. “I think we need to do it and do it before the end of the year.”
The big question for McConnell would be around what type of deal he’s interested in.
A McConnell plan pushed in October contained more than $100 billion for schools, a $300 per week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, and more subsidies for businesses especially hard hit by pandemic-related downturns and closures. It did not include the $1,200 direct payments that are so important to Trump. It was ultimately blocked by Senate Democrats.
In the meantime, chief negotiators Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were working on a much larger deal that would’ve included stimulus checks.
At issue is a huge virus relief bill that would send another payment to most Americans, restart bonus unemployment benefits, fund additional testing and vaccines, provide aid to schools and allocate money to state and local governments, a Democratic priority.
Pelosi says she wants a relief bill that is predicated on steps that science dictates should be taken to deal with the coronavirus, and “if we don’t, we’re just giving money to the president to spend any way he wants and that has not been in furtherance of crushing the virus.”
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows noted the relief bill that was most recently negotiated would cost about $1.9 trillion. Pelosi was hoping for a $2.2 trillion package. Meadows says he has a commitment from McConnell to bring a bill to the floor if and when negotiations with Pelosi conclude successfully.
A $1.8 trillion rescue plan in March passed virtually unanimously. The Pelosi-pushed package today is even larger but has run into resolute opposition from Republicans. Taking care of the issue would clear the decks for a fresh start on the congressional agenda next year.
Trump had said that if he wins reelection, aid will flow immediately. If he loses, it’s unclear whether his enthusiasm for delivering it will be as strong.
“I’m never very optimistic about the lame duck, and I’ve never been surprised,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “You don’t get near as much done as you think you’re going to get done.”
Those Republicans willing to speculate about a Trump loss say not to expect much, either.
“I think Democrats would want to wait until the new president is sworn in and do it then, and I think Republicans probably would say … the economy’s taking care of it,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Ahead of the election, Pelosi told reporters she hopes to get a deal passed before the end of the year in the event Biden was victorious. She says the new president would have too much to focus on during the transition process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.