Americans are no closer to new stimulus check as talks descend into finger-pointing

‘This need no be rocket science. But we can’t do anything unless the Democrats decide they want to make a law,’ Mitch McConnell said as Democrats accuse him of the same

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Wednesday 09 December 2020 17:08
Trump says 'terrific' that nearly 15% of Americans have contracted coronavirus

Americans are no closer to getting another round of checks from the federal government as talks about another Covid-19 relief package have descended into confusion and finger-pointing on Capitol Hill.

House and Senate Democratic leaders on Tuesday called Senate Republican and Trump White House proposals “appalling,’ rejecting them before the ink was dry. Democrats have yet to make a counter-proposal beyond demanding they get everything they want while inisting Republicans make several sacrifices.

Hopes for new stimulus checks rose briefly late Monday when the president appeared to embrace the idea, but neither side have put forth a proposal that would guarantee they would be cut.

Senate GOP Whip John Thune said he remains hopeful a deal can be struck before both chambers leave next week on a holiday recess. But if they fail to do so, not only will people not get new stimulus checks, a number of Covid-related programs like unemployment insurance will expire.

A clearly frustrated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used his session-opening speech on Wednesday to warn lawmakers are getting close to letting struggling families down at the holidays if “Washington fumbles the ball in the red zone.”

He lamented that “Congress can’t even agree to fully fund the vaccine efforts,” and noted that both parties agree “American who have been thrown out of work, through no fault of their own,” need federal help.

Mr McConnell accused Democrats of at no time since July being serious about “making a law” to grant new federal assistance, saying they have “delayed, deflected and moved the goal posts.”

He lamented Speaker Nancy Pelosi for last week saying she now is open to a package around $1trn after holding out for one twice that size before the election because the incoming Biden administration plans to seek a massive economic recovery bill when it takes over next month.

Democrats for months “denied such cynicism might be at play,” Mr McConnell said before noting with a chuckle that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday admitted during a television interview there was “some exuberance involved because there was an election coming.”

“Well, he gets points for candor,” a deadpan Mr McConnell said.

Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, part of a group of moderates pushing a $908m package, accused the GOP leader of opposing any proposal the group or Democrats might propose. He called on Mr McConnell to bring their still-ee

“It’s a good bill, far from perfect,” he said. “It deserves a vote on the floor of the Senate. … To close the door on this bipartisan effort is to reject this good-faith effort by members on both sides.”

The moderates have reached a “general agreement on all but one issue,” the Illinois Democrat said. That is liability protections for businesses being demanded by Republicans.

“Desperate decisions are being made because people are in desperate circumstances,” Mr Durbin said after the moderates sent an outline of their measure to other senators. It is six pages long, but does not mention the liability protections or the federal assistance to state and local governments that Democrats are demanding.

The moderates’ package remains the only game in town, but leadership on both sides and the Trump administration appear eager to strike their own deal.

Mr McConnell and Mr Durbin spoke after an eventful Tuesday afternoon when the two sides traded mostly barbs.

“With regard to [assistance for] state and local [government], a lot of members on our side look at the various states that receive the $150 billion we did in the CARES Act and wonder if this is a demonstrable need,” Mr McConnell said, making an offer to Democrats at a press conference: “What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local and pass those things we can agree on knowing full well we’ll be back at this at the first of the year.”

After all, the GOP leader noted “we know the new administration is going to be asking for another package.”

Not only did Mr McConnell seem to – finally – acknowledge Joe Biden is the president-elect, he also cast new doubt on lawmakers’ ability to strike a Covid-19 relief deal before they leave next week for a planned holiday recess.

“Senator McConnell has put the jobs of firefighters, ambulance workers, sanitation officers, police officers, in jeopardy.  Every governor and mayor across the country has been fighting to keep these people working and McConnell is pulling the rug out from under them,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reports a short time later..“When a worker is laid off from a state or local government, it's no different than when a worker is laid off from a small business,” the Democratic leader said. “Leader McConnell has refused to be part of the bipartisan negotiations and now he is sabotaging good faith, bipartisan negotiations because his partisan ideological effort is not getting a good reception.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mr McConnell’s remarks “appalling.”

Most of federal assistance programs expire on 26 December, the day after Christmas.

“This need no be rocket science,” Mr McConnell said on Wednesday. “But we can’t do anything unless the Democrats decide they want to make a law.”

The other side, however, is accusing him of the same thing.

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