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COVID Relief Deal May Be Far Off       10/20 06:27

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported some progress in advance of a Tuesday 
deadline for reaching a pre-election deal with President Donald Trump on a new 
coronavirus relief package, but the same core problems bedeviling the effort 
remain in place despite optimistic talk from the president and his team.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported some progress in 
advance of a Tuesday deadline for reaching a pre-election deal with President 
Donald Trump on a new coronavirus relief package, but the same core problems 
bedeviling the effort remain in place despite optimistic talk from the 
president and his team.

   Pelosi negotiated for nearly an hour Monday with Trump's top emissary, 
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and her office said they are continuing to 
narrow their differences.

   "Finally, they have come to the table and we're going to try to get 
something done," Pelosi said on MSNBC Monday evening. She said the two sides 
would take stock on Tuesday, which she has staked out as the deadline if a deal 
is to be reached before the election.

   "Let's make a judgment. We may not like this, we may not like that but let's 
see on balance if we can go forward," Pelosi said.

   But with time nearly up for Congress and the White House to deliver aid to 
Americans before the election, the question remains: If not now, when?

   It's a key consideration for Trump, who has talked up the prospect of 
another package as he asks voters for a second term, and for Democrats hopeful 
that their nominee, Joe Biden, is on the cusp of winning the White House in 
November.

   "Nancy Pelosi at this moment does not want to do anything that's going to 
affect the election," Trump said during a campaign swing in Arizona.

   The dynamic has created a tricky position for Pelosi, whose tough approach 
to the talks amid durable GOP opposition to a potential deal of almost $2 
trillion has left all sides staring at the very real potential of the 
negotiations failing. Pelosi is angling for the best deal she can get --- maybe 
that's now, maybe it's later. It's a risk she's willing to take.

   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with 
votes this week on GOP measures that stand little chance of advancing.

   Trump has upped his offer to $1.8 trillion or more and insisted Monday that 
"the Republicans will come along" if a deal is reached. His chief of staff and 
communications director took to Fox News to offer optimistic takes. But 
Republicans have spent months talking about a smaller aid package and the top 
GOP vote-counter, Sen. John Thune, said Monday that "it would be hard" to find 
the necessary Republican support for passage of any agreement in that range.

   Without an agreement at least in principle by Tuesday, Pelosi says it'll be 
too late to enact anything by Election Day. And if history is any guide, 
prospects for a deal in the lame-duck session after the election could be dim.

   If Trump loses, Congress is likely to stagger through a nonproductive 
session comparable to the abbreviated session after the decisive 2008 
Obama-Biden victory or the 2016 session that punted most of its leftovers to 
the Trump administration. That scenario would push virus aid into 2021.

   "If we delay this until the Biden administration we're talking about three, 
four, five months. The American people cannot wait," Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., a 
freshman facing a difficult race in Trump-friendly Staten Island, said on CNN. 
"With each passing day without action the American people will be suffering 
more."

   Pelosi calls the $1.8 trillion administration offer inadequate, saying that 
while the overall Trump offer has gone up, the details on a virus testing plan, 
aid to state and local governments, and tax cuts for the working poor still 
aren't to her satisfaction.

   At the same time, Trump's GOP allies in the Senate are backing a virus 
proposal that at $650 billion or so is only about one-third the size of the 
measure that Pelosi and Mnuchin are negotiating. But the Senate GOP bill has 
failed once before, and Trump himself says it's too puny.

   A debate slated for Wednesday on the Senate Republican plan promises to 
bring a hefty dose of posturing and political gamesmanship, but little more. It 
will follow a procedural tally Tuesday on a stand-alone renewal of bipartisan 
Paycheck Protection Program business subsidies that could cause Democratic 
fracturing but isn't likely to succeed.

   Pelosi has faced carping from some Democrats for playing hardball at the 
risk of going home empty-handed, but that criticism has been largely muted 
since McConnell keeps stiff-arming the negotiations.

   "The bigger issue is McConnell," said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who raised 
eyebrows earlier this month in publicly advising Pelosi to endorse Mnuchin's 
$1.8 trillion topline. "I mean, the President has said, 'Oh, I can get 
McConnell on board.' Well, why doesn't he call McConnell and get him on board?" 
he said on SiriusXM Urban View on Monday.

   The last coronavirus relief package, the $1.8 trillion bipartisan CARES Act, 
passed in March by an overwhelming margin as the economy went into lockdown 
amid fear and uncertainty about the virus. Since then, Trump and many of his 
GOP allies have focused on loosening social and economic restrictions as the 
key to recovery instead of more taxpayer-funded help.

   The moment is challenging for Pelosi as well. For months she has been 
promising a COVID relief package of more than $2 trillion stuffed with 
Obama-era stimulus ideas. Even though the Senate and White House are both in 
GOP hands --- and will be at least into January --- she has sharply rebuffed 
anyone who suggests that Democrats should take a smaller deal now rather than 
risk going home empty-handed until next year.

   "If Congress doesn't act the next administration is going to inherit a real 
mess," said Harvard economist Jason Furman, a former top Obama adviser. 
"Economic problems tend to feed on themselves." He is in the Democratic camp 
that prefers imperfect stimulus now rather than a larger package in four months 
or so.

 
 
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