Lawmakers hope election releases pressure on stimulus talks

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Lawmakers in both parties see a deal on a new coronavirus relief package as more likely in the lame-duck session, once the political pressures of the 2020 elections have abated.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) is confident about reaching a coronavirus relief deal after the elections, once the political stakes are lower. It’s notoriously difficult to pass legislation in an election year, let alone a few months or weeks before Election Day.

“The motivation level on both sides will depend on how the election comes out, but I think either way we’ll do something. The question is how much,” Thune told The Hill.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), the co-chair of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, said he hopes partisanship will simmer down in the lame-duck session.

“I’m certainly hopeful,” he said. “I’m eager to hear — depending on what happens in the election — what the White House would say and where [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a press conference Thursday said she wants to get a deal with President Trump after Election Day.

“We’ll have — we will — well, I want a bill for two reasons. First and foremost, the American people need help. They need real help. And, second of all, we have plenty of work to do in the Joe Biden administration,” she said, predicting a win for the Democratic presidential nominee.

Senate lawmakers and aides say McConnell (R-Ky.) and Pelosi, both longtime members of the Senate and House appropriations committees, have strong incentive to get a coronavirus relief deal done in the lame-duck session because it will make it easier to put together a full-year annual appropriations package before Christmas.

Pelosi is no longer a member of the House Appropriations Committee but is seen as sympathetic to the panel’s goals.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said appropriators have been focusing on putting together a coronavirus relief deal ahead of a year-end regular omnibus spending package.

Capito said it would “definitely be the preferable” course to have a stimulus package done before the year-end spending bills are due. She spoke to The Hill shortly after the Senate recessed for the election.

A senior Senate GOP aide predicted a deal is likely in the lame-duck because Senate Republicans will be less worried about angering their base by agreeing to Democratic priorities, such as infusion of aid for state and local governments, and Democrats will be less motivated to deny Trump a legislative victory and credit for boosting the economy.

“Pelosi and Schumer didn’t want to cut a deal before the election. After the election and after McConnell is reelected as leader there is more opportunity,” said the aide.

“It’s not easy because of the way Pelosi is negotiating,” the GOP aide said, criticizing the House Speaker. “But if she’s open to a conversation about what is realistic and possible, then anything is possible.”

Some have questioned whether a lame-duck Trump, if he loses the election, would be interested in dealing.

The GOP aide predicted that Trump, if he loses, is “going to be looking at historical legacy” and is “going to want to be able to say these are my vaccines,” referring to money that would go to deploying health care initiatives.

Pelosi on Thursday told Bloomberg News’s “Balance of Power” that she thinks there’s a realistic chance of a deal in the lame-duck.

“The president has said we would have an agreement after the election,” she noted.

Pelosi sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the lead White House negotiator, Thursday asking for a response to the latest compromise offer she made earlier this month.

“Your responses are critical for our negotiations to continue,” she wrote. “The president’s words that ‘after the election, we will get the best stimulus package you have ever seen’ only have meaning if he can get Mitch McConnell to take his hand off the pause button and get Senate Republican Chairmen moving toward agreement with their House counterparts.”

Some Democrats, however, are skeptical that McConnell will agree to any deal if Trump loses the White House.

“Something should be done. Something should have been done already,” said a Senate Democratic aide who predicted that Republicans will be in no mood to compromise if they lose the presidency and the Senate.

“I don’t think there is a package, period, if they lose. I think Pelosi wants one,” the source added, predicting that GOP lawmakers will again embrace fiscal austerity as they did under President Obama 10 years ago.

The GOP leader told the Senate Republican Conference recently that he advised the White House that it would be better if a relief deal with Democratic leaders did not come to the Senate floor before Election Day.  

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Joe Biden John Thune Josh Gottheimer Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi relief bill Shelley Moore Capito Stimulus

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