Coronavirus relief likely on pause until after election as Trump promises 'best stimulus package'

White House, Democrats trade blame over latest impasse in virus relief talks

The odds of Congress striking a coronavirus relief deal before the November election dimmed considerably this week after the Senate left Washington for their October recess with no agreement in place.

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"After the election, we'll get the best stimulus package," President Trump told reporters Tuesday before boarding Air Force One.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke by phone for 52 minutes on Monday afternoon, the latest in a near-daily effort between the two negotiators to winnow the differences on a stimulus package between the Trump administration and Democratic leaders.

Democrats "continue to eagerly await the Administration’s acceptance of our health language, which includes a national strategic plan on testing and tracing. We are hopeful their response will be positive as we also await the outcomes of talks between committee chairs," Pelosi aide Drew Hammill tweeted.

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“It is clear that our progress depends on Leader McConnell agreeing to bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to crush the virus, honor our heroes — our essential workers — and put money in the pockets of the American people,” he added.

The two sides traded blame over who's responsible for the latest impasse in talks, with both accusing the other of "moving the goalposts" on a stimulus bill.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany acknowledged Tuesday that "chances are slim" for an agreement with the speaker before the election. She reiterated a frequent criticism among Republicans that Democrats' proposal is a "radical left wish list" that includes non-COVID related items, such as protections for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

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“If we’re providing stimulus relief for the American people, it should be just that, for American people, for United States citizens, not a wish list from the liberal left,” McEnany told FOX Business' Stuart Varney on Tuesday. “So it’s on her.”

The Senate adjourned until Nov. 9 after voting to confirm President Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. The House is already out. Both chambers could be given 24 hours notice to return to Washington to vote on legislation, but with the election just seven days away, the chances of that happening are unlikely.

For months, Congress has struggled to reach an agreement on another round of emergency relief for families and businesses — negotiations first collapsed in early August, prompting Trump to sign four executive measures intended to provide relief to families still reeling from the virus-induced crisis, including temporarily extending supplemental jobless aid at $300 a week.

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But that aid is beginning to expire, and lifelines that propped up the economy in the early weeks of the pandemic — like the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, a one-time $1,200 stimulus check and sweetened unemployment benefits — lapsed months ago.

On top of that, millions of laid-off workers could lose their jobless benefits altogether by the end of the year, with the enhanced unemployment benefits that Congress approved in March set to expire on Dec. 31.

If Congress does not cut a deal and pass legislation before Nov. 3, some have warned that it's unlikely lawmakers will pass a bill during the lame-duck session that takes place after the election but before the new administration starts -- imperiling aid for months.

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"If it doesn't get done by [the] election, all those people on Wall Street, all those people in Main Street America realize this isn't going to get done until February, because of the gridlock and dysfunction of Washington, D.C.," Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., told FOX Business on Monday.

Still, White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said Tuesday during an interview on Fox News that the Trump administration believed it could pass relief "within weeks."

"We're hoping within weeks," she said. "I don't want to get too ahead of any announcements."