Who's to blame for stalled stimulus talks?

Mike Bebernes
·Editor
·6 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Hopes that Congress might pass another round of economic stimulus before Election Day seem to be fading quickly despite apparent eagerness to reach a deal from both congressional Democrats and the White House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reported progress in her efforts with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to reconcile the $2.2 trillion package with the White House’s $1.8 trillion offer earlier in the week, but the sides are still far apart on some key issues, according to multiple reports. Even if Pelosi and Mnuchin find common ground, any agreement they reach would have to be approved by the Republican-led Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed doubts that his caucus would support any bill with such a hefty price tag.

After the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread business closures across the country in March, Congress moved swiftly to craft the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. It passed in both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support, as did a later bill that added $484 billion in additional funds for the Paycheck Protection Program. Many economists have credited the CARES Act — especially the $1,200 stimulus checks and $600 weekly unemployment enhancement — for helping the U.S. avoid an even more severe recession. Most of those provisions expired months ago.

The House passed $3 trillion in additional stimulus in May, but the bill never received consideration in the Senate. Talks on a new bipartisan package sat mostly idle until the past few weeks, when pressure to get a new bill passed by Election Day brought Pelosi and Mnuchin back to the negotiating table. If no new stimulus passes before the election, it may mean that hopes of economic relief will have to wait until January, when a new Congress, and possibly a new president, are sworn in, many political analysts say. That delay could have dire consequences for millions of Americans who are struggling to get by as the country enters its third, and possibly most severe, wave of coronavirus cases.

Why there’s debate

Most Americans want Congress to pass another stimulus bill, so it’s no surprise that each side has tried to place blame for failure to reach a deal on their political opponents. “Pelosi is holding up STIMULUS, not the Republicans!” Trump tweeted in mid-October. Many conservatives agree with him, arguing that Pelosi is using the political leverage created by the impending election to strong-arm the White House into caving to her progressive wish list. Some on the left have also criticized Pelosi for not accepting a less-than-perfect offer from the White House, given the damage that could happen if no deal is reached at all.

Others have blamed Trump for not using his influence to rally Republican support for a deal and for muddling the negotiations with confusing public statements. Earlier this month, he announced that he instructed Mnuchin to suspend negotiations until after the election. A few days later, Trump said he wanted an even bigger package than Democrats were offering, a statement that was quickly contradicted by White House staff.

The true roadblock for any new stimulus bill, some argue, is McConnell and Senate Republicans. Negotiations between Pelosi and the White House are more or less irrelevant, they say, because there’s very little chance the Senate would even consider, let alone approve, another trillion-dollar aid package given the political incentives and the urgent push to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Perspectives

Pelosi doesn’t want to give Trump a political win before the election

“Like Pelosi said herself, Democrats are wary of passing a stimulus bill because it would hand President Donald Trump a political victory, and fear that sending $1,200 checks to those who desperately need it could help revive his reelection campaign. They’re holding back, even as millions of Americans face layoffs, unemployment, and potentially evictions.” — Aída Chávez, Intercept

Pelosi should accept an imperfect offer while she still has the chance

“Trump has launched a sustained offensive in right-wing media calling for more stimulus. This is leverage that Pelosi will not have after the election when Trump will no longer care about being reelected.” — Zach Carter, HuffPost

‘Resistance’ Democrats have made it politically untenable for Pelosi to accept a deal

“Pelosi’s fear is being ‘soft on Trump.’ In the Trump era, that’s the worst accusation one can make against a Democrat. And she’s been careful to avoid even a hint of it.” — Fred Barnes, Washington Examiner

Trump knows that a massive new spending bill contradicts his messaging on the pandemic

“Trump has never played by the traditional rules of politics. What’s more, the need for stimulus never suited his approach to the pandemic. Accepting a deal on coronavirus aid might undercut his main campaign talking point: That everything is fine. That the pandemic is totally under control and the economy is roaring back like never before.” — Rex Nutting, MarketWatch

Trump’s approach risks blowback and undermines his image as a dealmaker

“Despite the dire need, he, the great dealmaker, has been unable to get his own Republicans to accept a new stimulus. Trump may now have reached the end of the country’s — and even the Republicans’ — patience.” — Political scientist Max J. Skidmore to Washington Post

If Trump really wanted to get a deal done, it would be done

“There’s something fundamentally incredible about Trump’s suggestion that mean old Nancy Pelosi won’t accept a deal on any terms. If he wants one, all he’s got to do is tell Mnuchin to get as much as he can in last-minute concessions and then just agree to the damn thing.” — Ed Kilgore, New York

McConnell has put seating a new Supreme Court justice ahead of economic aid

“Mitch McConnell, the sensei of the Senate GOP, has been warning in private and in public for weeks that he does not believe that the Senate should try to juggle the first-ever Supreme Court confirmation during an election and the largest-ever federal stimulus package in the 13 days before voting ends. He paints a convincing picture that the Republicans could end up losing control of one or both of those heavy-laden freight trains if they run them at the same time.” — Chris Stirewalt, Fox News

Senate Republicans are unlikely to approve any deal Pelosi and Mnuchin come to

“In reality, Senate Republicans are the ones who could be the roadblock to a deal: As Democrats and the White House have engaged in negotiations, McConnell has been far less involved — while repeatedly emphasizing that many of his members aren’t interested in more comprehensive aid. And even as he’s put a narrower Republican bill on the floor, he’s actively discouraged a compromise option.” — Li Zhou, Vox

GOP senators aren’t willing to take the political risk of passing new stimulus

“With control of the White House and Senate at risk, some Senate Republicans are putting their own political livelihoods ahead of Trump’s, making a case that donors should prioritize building a firewall in the Senate.” — Alexander Bolton, The Hill

Partisanship, not any one person, is to blame

“Rather than simply blocking any stimulus legislation that contains elements they object to, Republicans and Democrats in Congress should strike a bargain: They will accept the inclusion of a provision they oppose so long as the other side does the same.” — Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

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