A deadlock between White House officials and Democratic leaders over what to include in another coronavirus aid package has continued to persist more than one month after negotiations first collapsed, imperiling the chances of a stimulus deal before the November election.
The Senate is set to vote Thursday on a scaled-back bill, estimated to cost about $300 billion. Even if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., secures 51 GOP votes, the legislation will not receive the necessary 60 votes to advance.
Lawmakers are working on an increasingly tight deadline, with just a few weeks before they leave Washington to campaign ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of the lead negotiators for the White House, said his focus now is ensuring Congress passes a stopgap measure to keep federal agencies open beyond Sept. 30. (Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said they have agreed to work on a short-term spending bill to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1.)
He said he was unsure whether the two sides could reach a compromise on another round of emergency relief.
Asked on Wednesday about the odds for a deal this year, Mnuchin said, “I don’t know. We’ll see. I hope there is. It’s important to a lot of people out there."
The Senate returned to Washington on Tuesday from its four-week August recess. The House is scheduled to return on Monday for about three weeks.
One of the biggest points of contention is the package's cost: Democrats have offered to come down $1 trillion from the roughly $3 trillion HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. But the White House and Republican leaders want to keep the price tag closer to $1 trillion amid growing concerns over the nation's ballooning deficit.
The impasse has put at risk potentially trillions of dollars in aid for families and small businesses, including a fresh round of $1,200 stimulus checks, extra unemployment aid for millions of out-of-work Americans, $100 billion to help reopen schools and relief for cash-strapped state and local governments.
While the nation's economy has mounted a tepid recovery, new government data released last week shows the labor market is still far from pre-crisis levels: Employers added 1.4 million jobs in August and the unemployment rate fell to 8.4%, but there are still 11.5 million more out-of-work Americans than there were in February.
Democrats and Republicans have each blamed the other side for the stalled-out talks, a trend that continued on Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell taking aim at each other.
“The race for treatments and vaccines has gone without the additional funding that Republicans wanted to deliver,” McConnell said. “Families have gone without the economic relief that Republicans wanted to put in their pockets. And Washington Democrats have just kept trying to run out the clock until November.”
Schumer, meanwhile, accused McConnell of "looking for political cover" instead of bipartisan cooperation with the planned floor vote on the $300 billion legislation.
"It won’t pass on Thursday, and we’ll be right back where we are today: needing our Republican colleagues to understand the gravity of the situation in our country, and work with us on a bill that actually makes some sense and deals with the magnitude of this awful crisis," he said.
Earlier in the week, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urged the two sides to come together and compromise on an aid package, noting there's wide bipartisan support for enhanced federal unemployment benefits, aid for schools, additional funding for small businesses and a fresh round of stimulus checks.
He said he remained "optimistic" that voters could see additional stimulus measures before the election.
"There's more we agree upon than what we disagree upon," he told FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo this week. "I think it's time we put politics aside, pass this stimulus, actually allow it to go to the president's desk."