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Election scrambles prospects for next COVID-19 relief bill

Election scrambles prospects for next COVID-19 relief bill
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The election results, both known and unknown, have scrambled the prospects for a new coronavirus relief bill after months of negotiations.

With no declared winner in the presidential race and next year's Senate majority likely in limbo until January, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress are preparing for outcomes in which they could gain or lose leverage in any COVID-19 talks.

Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide MORE, who leads President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE in the vote counts in four key battleground states, is closing in on the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. Networks have not yet called the race for him, even though many woke up Friday morning with that expectation.

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The winner of the presidential race will have a profound impact on what kind of relief bill gets passed and when.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFeinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee Voters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus MORE (R-Ky.) said after Election Day that he favors a bill by year’s end.

“I think that’s job one when we get back,” he said. “Hopefully, the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election.”

But the election, particularly control of the Senate in 2021, might not be known by the end of December. That's because Georgia is likely looking at two Senate runoff races on Jan. 5. If Democrats win both of them, and if Biden wins the presidency, they also take control of the Senate.

If elected, Biden is likely to support a package carrying a price tag opposed by many GOP lawmakers.

But it's unclear whether a deal can be reached during the lame-duck session, and who would be the lead negotiator for Republicans, especially if Trump finds himself continuing to wage legal battles over the election.

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Negotiations so far have taken place between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVoters want a strong economy and leadership, Democrats should listen On The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus MORE (D-Calif.), whose caucus will start next year with fewer members, and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Pence, Biden wage tug of war over pandemic plans MORE.

But White House adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE said Friday that the Trump administration had opened talks with McConnell, not Pelosi, on coronavirus relief.

A spokesman for Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Biden to nominate Yellen for Treasury secretary | 'COVID cliff' looms | Democrats face pressure to back smaller stimulus Loeffler to continue to self-isolate after conflicting COVID-19 test results Loeffler isolating after possible COVID-19 infection MORE (R-Iowa) said Pelosi had overplayed her hand on negotiations before the election.

“What is clear is that Democrats lost [a lot] of leverage, perceived and real,” the spokesman said.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcConnell wants deal this week on fiscal 2021 spending figures Graham becomes center of Georgia storm Republicans start turning the page on Trump era MORE (R-Mo.) said Pelosi will now have to give ground on some of her demands.

"Sure she does," Blunt said when asked about whether Pelosi would need to retreat somewhat. "The vast majority of her members also think she has to give some ground here."

Democratic centrists and progressives bashed one another in a Thursday phone call, reeling from the loss of several key House races in an election where they had expected to gain upward of a dozen seats, and adding pressure on Pelosi to hold the group together.

Rep. Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderElection scrambles prospects for next COVID-19 relief bill Democrats call for IRS to review tax-exempt status of NRA 189 House Democrats urge Israel to 'reconsider' annexation MORE (D-Ill.), a centrist who worked on a compromise COVID-19 proposal with the Problem Solvers Caucus last month, brushed off the infighting and said the caucus was still very much in support of a significant deal.

“[Federal Reserve Chairman] Jerome Powell said very clearly and has repeated himself that we can’t go wrong by overshooting, but we can cause serious damage to our economy by not doing enough,” Schneider said.

He suggested that focusing a smaller deal on a shorter time span could be a suitable compromise during the lame-duck.

Pelosi rejected suggestions that she take a more limited deal from Senate Republicans.

“It doesn't appeal to me at all, because they still have not agreed to crush the virus,” she said Friday.

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“If we don't crush the virus, we're still going to be dealing with the consequences of the virus," Pelosi added.

But she left the door open to compromise.

"We have a responsibility to find a common ground, stand our ground where we can," she said.

While Pelosi suggested that a Biden win was an “opportunity” for the negotiations, there is significant pressure to get a deal done before January.

The U.S. has set a new daily records for coronavirus cases in the past week, and several key provisions from an early COVID-19 relief bill expired over the summer, with others slated to end before next year.

But Democrats see McConnell’s public embrace of reaching a deal as reason for hope.

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“The difference to me now is that McConnell seems to want to do one,” said a House Democratic aide. “I thought it was pretty telling that the first thing McConnell said the day after the election was the need to do a stimulus package."

Trump, however, is seen as the wildcard in any negotiations.

Before the election, the president had strong incentives to push for a big package to juice the economy, boost the stock market and potentially get stimulus checks with his signature out to voters.

But with the election over and Trump signaling he may not accept defeat, it remains unclear how willing he would be to strike a deal and sign legislation into law.