By Kristina Peterson
WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will talk on the phone Tuesday
afternoon about coronavirus relief, according to someone familiar
with the plans.
The new talks come as lawmakers start a year-end sprint this
week to keep the government running, provide more coronavirus aid
and pass an annual defense bill. President Trump's focus on
challenging his election loss has injected more uncertainty into
the legislative outcome.
As the pandemic surges nationwide, Democratic and Republican
leaders are under increasing pressure from rank-and-file lawmakers
to agree on some Covid relief, prodded in part by the looming
expiration of aid provisions from bills passed earlier this year.
Those include broadened unemployment insurance coverage as well as
expanded paid sick and family leave.
They are also working to complete a full-year spending bill
before the government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on
Dec. 12. And Congress must still pass the annual defense policy
bill, which has broad bipartisan support -- despite a veto threat
from the president over a provision that would rename military
bases honoring the Confederacy.
Even if lawmakers who have been mired in disagreements for
months can finally coalesce around their year-end list, they will
need cooperation from Mr. Trump, who has refused to concede the
presidential race and continues to make allegations of fraud that
have been dismissed in court.
Lawmakers have made the most progress on the fastest-approaching
deadline: keeping the government running beyond Dec. 11, when its
current funding expires. Last week, Senate Republicans and House
Democrats agreed on how to divvy up the $1.4 trillion pot of money
across the 12 spending bills that fund the government. Now they are
scurrying to complete those and produce a full-year spending bill
by the weekend or early next week, aides said.
The deepest divisions are over the Homeland Security spending
bill, where Republicans and Democrats are at odds over whether to
include funding for building a wall along the border with Mexico
and purchasing detention beds for immigrants. But Democrats said
they were less anxious about funding Homeland Security for next
year, knowing that President-elect Joe Biden will be in charge of
immigration policy. Mr. Biden has said he would stop building the
wall, among other changes to Mr. Trump's immigration agenda.
After months of wrangling over the cost and contents of a
coronavirus relief package, congressional leaders have yet to
signal any compromise. But the coming expiration of crucial aid
provisions, right as the virus is intensifying nationwide, is
fueling calls on both sides of the aisle to pass new stimulus
measures before adjourning this year. The administration's actions
halting evictions and suspending payments on federal student loans
also both end at the new year.
Republicans have criticized Democratic leaders for insisting on
a larger and more expensive package, including funding for state
and local governments.
"With the coronavirus surging from coast to coast, the American
people have gone entirely without any additional aid -- even the
least controversial, most bipartisan programs -- on Democrats'
say-so," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said on
the Senate floor Monday.
Democrats, meanwhile, have faulted Republicans for supporting a
smaller amount of aid, while also giving priority to legal
protections for businesses and other entities.
Mr. McConnell's view "seems to be that the only things that
should be in this bill are things Republicans approve of, even if
the needs of the country -- the desperate needs of the country --
are beyond the small list that Republicans might support," Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Monday. "And that is
not real compromise."
If leaders are able to reach an agreement on Covid relief, it is
likely to be wrapped into the spending bill, rather than passed on
its own, according to lawmakers and aides.
"The more likely course is the omnibus and the Covid relief
strengthen each other politically and substantively, and therefore
it's a better bet to put them through together," said Rep. David
Price (D., N.C.), a senior member of the House Appropriations
Mr. Trump, whose signature would be needed for any legislation
to become law, has commented little on the coronavirus relief
debate after the election. Previously, Mr. Trump urged Mr. Mnuchin
to cut a deal hovering around $2 trillion with Mrs. Pelosi, saying
he hoped to send out a second round of direct payments to
Americans. Those negotiations ended in a political stalemate as
Election Day neared.
Since the election, Mr. Trump has been focused on contesting its
outcome. Most GOP leaders have backed Mr. Trump's legal challenges
and not yet recognized Mr. Biden as the president-elect. But both
Mr. McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.)
have indicated that state certification deadlines in December will
play an important role in completing the election's outcome. That
timeline could create a combustible situation if more Republicans
acknowledge Mr. Trump's loss right when his cooperation will be
needed on legislation.
States are supposed to resolve any outstanding issues about
results by Dec. 8, the deadline to certify their electoral votes
and the electors who will cast them in the Electoral College. The
electors meet in the capitals of their respective states on Dec. 14
and vote to complete their states' election results.
Mr. Biden has joined Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer in urging
Congress to reach an agreement before the end of the year. He has
said he supports Mrs. Pelosi's push for a larger bill.
Even before the election, Mr. Trump had already threatened to
veto one of the most popular bills passed by Congress each year,
the annual defense policy bill. The president balked at slightly
different provisions in the House and Senate bills that would
require the Defense Department to rename U.S. military bases that
honor the Confederacy. Negotiators are currently working to hammer
out a compromise defense bill that would then need to be passed by
Write to Kristina Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 01, 2020 10:43 ET (15:43 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.