The Senate left Washington, D.C., on Thursday until September — the latest sign that a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief package is, at least, weeks away.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.) had kept the chamber in session this week, which was technically the first in its August recess, as a last-ditch attempt to create space for the administration and congressional Democrats to get an agreement.
But with talks stalemated, senators argue there is little reason for them to keep holding daily, roughly 1 1/2-hour sessions. The House already left town and isn't expected to return until Sept. 14.
“We will have our regular pro forma meetings through the end of the state work period. If the Speaker of the House and the minority leader of the Senate decide to finally let another package move forward … it would take bipartisan consent to meet for legislative business sooner than scheduled,” McConnell said as he wrapped up the Senate until next month.
McConnell added that he hoped the Senate would be able to “act sometime soon.”
Senators will get at least 24 hours notice to return if congressional Democrats, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinMenendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsGraham found Trump election fraud arguments suitable for 'third grade': Woodward book Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan MORE are able to break the impasse and votes are scheduled. Otherwise, the Senate will formally reconvene on Sept. 8.
Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Grassley leads Finkenauer by 18 points in hypothetical matchup: poll 62 percent in Iowa disapprove of Biden, poll shows MORE (R-Iowa) predicted during a conference call on Tuesday that if negotiators didn't restart by Thursday, the administration's executive orders would be the only action that takes place until early September.
“If it doesn’t happen in the next 48 hours, I think this is all you’re going to see until Congress gets back into session after Labor Day," Grassley told reporters.
There's little reason to think a deal will be reached before then.
The four key negotiators have not met in person since Friday, when the talks officially collapsed.
And the only contact to take place this week — Mnuchin calling House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats seek to cool simmering tensions Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid House Democrats unveil legislation to curtail presidential power MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday — resulted in dueling statements that only illustrated how stalemated the negotiations on coronavirus relief have become.
Democrats entered negotiations with a package of approximately $3.4 trillion to $3.7 trillion and have offered to reduce that price tag by $1 trillion. Republicans and the White House have refused to move from roughly $1 trillion.
"We are miles apart in our values," Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. "Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gave a damn. That isn't the case. This is very far apart."
Asked when her next talk would be with Mnuchin and Meadows, Pelosi responded, "I don't know. When they come in with $2 trillion."
"As Secretary Mnuchin said yesterday, the Speaker wants a $2 trillion commitment from us. We're not going to give it. There are too many things, too many asks on their side that don't fit, don't have anything to do with COVID, for that matter," he said.
Beyond a top-line figure, the two sides haven’t resolved how much weekly unemployment benefits would be, how much money to give state and local governments or how to address McConnell’s red line of liability protections for businesses that open back up. School funding, both the amount and how it's divided up, remains a sticking point as well.
The inaction comes as the unemployment rate is at 10.2 percent, down from a peak of 14.7 percent in April but still slightly higher than the peak during the Great Recession. And the country continues to report tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases per day, including reporting nearly 1,500 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday in what is the highest number of daily deaths since mid-May.
Mnuchin and Meadows have been providing daily updates to Senate Republicans, but senators have said there is little reason to think a detente between congressional Democrats and the administration is on the horizon.
“Basically, not much new movement,” said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMissouri official asks court to suspend McCloskeys' law licenses GOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate MORE (R-Mo.) after a call this week.
The stalemate is taking place less than three months before the November election, injecting more politics into the dynamic compared to the four previous coronavirus relief bills that passed the Senate with either no opposition or only a handful of “no” votes.
Vulnerable incumbents in both parties have sent warning signals this week to leadership that they need to cut a deal.
Rep. Max RoseMax RoseMax Rose preparing for rematch with Nicole Malliotakis: report 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection Overnight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage MORE (N.Y.), a freshman Democrat in a district President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE won in 2016, told CNN that "I share the concerns that I'm hearing from my constituents: I'm pissed. I'm angry. ... At this point, it's a middle finger to the American people."
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Welcome to ground zero of climate chaos MORE (R-Maine) — who faces a tough reelection bid as one of two GOP senators running in a state won by 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE — said on Thursday that she thought the Senate should reconvene next week to try to work on an agreement and force members to vote on coronavirus relief proposals.
“Have people step up to the plate,” she told the Sun Journal.
But even though the Senate has been in session the week, the Capitol has largely slid into its normal summer routine with only a handful of senators spotted around the chamber.
Instead, the brief sessions have largely been used for senators to trade blame over the inability to get a deal, providing a daily look at how far apart the two sides are.
McConnell on Thursday accused Democrats of holding an agreement “hostage” and “barely even pretending to negotiate,” while warning that voters were watching.
“By now the whole country knows what I’m talking about, the absurd issues which the Democrats have turned into sticking points,” he said.
Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? MORE (D-Va.) shrugged off the comments, noting the GOP leader is facing his own headache with, by McConnell’s own estimate, up to 20 senators prepared to vote against any deal. The GOP divisions captured the political spotlight for weeks, and undermined the negotiating hand for Meadows and Mnuchin.
“He's gotta say something,” Kaine said. “And, you know, I think he's done what he can do with the Senate GOP. When he candidly acknowledged, ‘look, there's gonna be at least 20 members of Congress who won't vote for a single dollar’s worth of aid,’ he basically at that point is saying, ‘Dems, you gotta work it out with the White House.’”