Senate Republicans appear unwilling to approve a business cycle deal even if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House reach an agreement.
Last weekend, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the upper chamber would "consider" any compromise between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, though it is unclear whether that means he would plan a vote on it. (White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the Senate would vote on any agreement reached, but McConnell has not specifically confirmed this himself.)
In the past, the majority leader has been reluctant to vote on a more expansive package, partly due to ruptures within the Republican conference. Republican senators like Ted Cruz (TX) and Ben Sasse (NE) have repeatedly publicly stated that they want a small incentive that will limit new borrowing. For example, when the White House offered the latest $ 1.8 trillion deal, McConnell made it clear he wasn't going to put it on the floor.
The president is talking "about a lot more than I can sell to my members," he said during a press release last week in response to questions about a stimulus plan that would be in that area.
Pelosi and Mnuchin are currently still in talks on a broader package, an agreement that a growing number of House Democrats would like to reach in the near future.
"I'd like to see a deal now," Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democratic legislature from a swing district in New Jersey, told the Washington Post last week. "And what is important to me is not the dollar amount, but the knowledge that the key features such as state and local government aid are funded for at least several months because the need is immediate and great."
Pelosi had previously turned down the White House's $ 1.8 trillion proposal, arguing that the language was insufficient for coronavirus testing and the support it included for child tax credits was inadequate. She has been working for months to reach an agreement with the Trump administration, stressing on Sunday that it must be met by Tuesday so that something can move forward before election day.
But the Republican opposition could mean that compromise is in the Senate. Even if Pelosi and Mnuchin reach a business cycle agreement, there is great uncertainty as to whether Senate Republicans would be on board. If upper chamber Democrats support the compromise, they will need 13 more Republican votes to ultimately pass it, which is not guaranteed.
Right now, lawmakers are going two different ways to incentivize: The Democrats have already proposed to push ahead with an updated version of the HEROES bill that encouraged $ 2.2 trillion spending and are in talks with the White House on a draft compromise. In the meantime, Republicans have their own much tighter stimulus bill that they want to vote on this week.
To date, McConnell has not been as actively involved in negotiations as Pelosi and Mnuchin, an attitude he has taken during other stalemates such as the government shutdown. As Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) told Politico earlier, McConnell sees this deal as an arrangement that needs to be worked out between Democrats and the White House.
This time around, however, Republicans' outcry over the size of a stimulus deal and its addition to national debt suggests that if the Democrats and the government work out their differences, they are the ones who could ultimately hold up a bill.
“I can tell you that there are some in the Senate who would support that. Whether there are enough votes to reach the 60-vote threshold is up to Leader McConnell, "Meadows said on Monday, according to NBC News.
Many Senate Republicans have been speaking out against a larger stimulus plan for months
Senate Republicans have been divided for months, and some members have voted strongly against a major bill. Earlier this summer, GOP legislation, which included approximately $ 1 trillion in stimulus spending, was massively thrown back by segments of the conference.
“There is considerable opposition to another trillion dollars. The answer to these challenges will not be simply to shovel money out of Washington but to get people back to work, "Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in July, according to CNN.
Since then, there have been repeated Republican aspirations for a closer bill, including a $ 500 billion option that will receive a vote this week. Areas in which Republicans differed significantly from Democrats include the size of state and local funding, as well as allocations for expanded unemployment. And while Trump was apparently ready to "make it big," McConnell has said that, for the most part, Republicans are interested in something that is less expansive.
“My members think what we have planned – half a trillion dollars, very focused – is the best way to go. So I'll put that on the floor, ”McConnell said during his press appearance.
There's no deal yet
As Senate Republicans prepare for two stimulus votes this week – one on the paycheck protection program to help small businesses and one on their broader $ 500 billion bill – Pelosi and Mnuchin work on differences between House Democrats and the White House.
There are still a number of sticking points that Pelosi noted in a "Dear Colleague" letter she sent to the Democratic Caucus on Sunday. Among other things: The government changed language in its party's proposal to fund coronavirus tests to give Trump more leeway in using the stimulus output.
"The White House has removed 55 percent of the Heroes Act language for testing, tracking, and treatment," wrote Pelosi. "Particularly disappointing was the removal of measures to combat the disproportionate and deadly effects of the virus on color communities."
In addition, disagreements persist over how much money goes towards child tax credits, which has made Pelosi a key priority.
There is pressure within the democratic caucus to reach an agreement soon rather than waiting after the election. The problem is particularly pressing given the millions of people grappling with unemployment, evictions and business closings as the economic fallout from the pandemic persists. Recent studies, such as one from JPMorgan and the University of Chicago, have shown that families who saved money thanks to this spring's stimulus packages are increasingly exhausted.
"The idea that you would be leaving by February … is frankly incomprehensible," Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), head of the House Problem Solver's caucus, said in a recent CNBC interview.
Political experts have told Vox that since they are currently the party in power in the White House, Republicans may be carrying more of the political backlash for delaying incentives. “It is more likely that voters will blame the incumbent presidential party more for the economy and the country as a whole,” Kyle Kondik, editor-in-chief of Sabatos Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, told Vox earlier. "From a purely political perspective, Republicans should have more incentives to stimulate the economy than Democrats."
For now, the Democratic-White House deal and the support it could get from Senate Republicans are in the air. Whether the president can ultimately bring his own party on board will be a key factor in moving a possible compromise forward.
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