Prospects for a stimulus deal fading in the lame duck
(CNN) -- The prospects for another coronavirus stimulus package appear to be slim in the wake of the November elections -- with both sides still badly divided over the size and scope of such a plan and lawmakers uncertain how President Donald Trump will handle the matter now that he's lost his bid for reelection.
"I think both sides are saying they want one, but both sides are saying they want the one they want," Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri and a member of leadership said Monday at the Capitol.
The election has left the chances of passing another stimulus package unclear, senators and congressional sources told CNN on Monday with top Republicans dead set against moving a massive package beyond $1 trillion. Democrats are demanding twice as much.
Meanwhile, Trump -- who once called on Republicans to accept "a big, beautiful" stimulus in hopes it would boost his election prospects -- is now consumed by the fallout of his defeat. The White House's lead stimulus negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, has taken a step back from the talks, and all eyes are on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had been on the sidelines of the negotiations throughout the summer and fall.
In recent days, McConnell has signaled an interest in getting a stimulus passed out of as his majority hangs in the balance with two crucial Senate races in Georgia headed for a runoff on January 5. But, McConnell emphasized once again Monday that anything that passes, must be "targeted."
"We need another rescue package," McConnell said last week in Kentucky. "I think we need to do it and I think we need to do it before the end of the year."
Aides on both sides who have spent months watching the negotiations argue that there are no signs that a deal is on the horizon even if the balance of the Senate hangs in the balance. Both sides are still awaiting direction from their leadership on how to proceed and repeatedly failed talks have left members uncertain that a deal can get done when another spending deadline looms in December to keep the government funded. If anything, they argue that there are too many variables at this point to gauge whether a deal is possible in the lame duck at all. For one, with Mnuchin out of the picture, there are still questions about to what extent McConnell will take the helm and negotiate directly with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, or whether Trump will be willing to sign any deal at all.
Aides say there is some hope that President-elect Joe Biden will assert himself as well in the negotiations as a way to begin building a coalition with the GOP-controlled Senate. Whether that alliance could be forged before he is even president, however, and with two outstanding Senate races in Georgia, is unclear.
"Joe is going to be able to pull together leaders in Congress to deliver the relief that we need and deserve and one way that President Trump can show some graciousness in the next 73 days during the transition is to publicly support a significant pandemic relief bill," Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, told ABC Sunday.
The calculation for Republicans is whether a stimulus deal is necessary in order to boost Georgia Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. While several GOP senators were reelected from Maine to Montana without a bipartisan deal, the runoff is different, and the GOP senators won't have Trump helping generate turnout at the top of the ticket. McConnell will need to try and hand his Republican incumbents every advantage he can. But McConnell is still contending with a conference that is dead set against a stimulus bill that costs much more than $1 trillion. Anything above $1.5 trillion has been a red line for most members in his conference.
"You know Mitch said he wanted to get one done. And I agree we need to do that on a level that you know what we supported previously in the Senate, which is a lot different than what the House has been trying to do. ... It has to be focused on getting people back to work getting kids to schools safely and getting the virus behind us," Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, told reporters.
There's also just a few weeks until Congress must find a way to keep the government funded. That deadline -- December 11-- will likely take up much of the time of appropriators. And while there are some who believe lawmakers could roll together a stimulus with a spending bill, many aides point out there are still many differences that remain from state and local funding, to the size of the stimulus to how much unemployment insurance should be boosted at the federal level.
"It might not be a bad idea if we can agree on the stimulus," Senate Appropriations Chairman Dick Shelby, an Alabama Republican, told reporters.
Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, told reporters that there was a "compelling case" for a new COVID bill, but not one that was the size Democrats were aiming form.
"I don't know what the magic number is. But it's not zero and it's not $3 trillion," Cornyn said.
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