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The back and forth negotiations over a broader Covid-19 stimulus package continued Wednesday with no firm agreements in place.
Agreement on a coronavirus stimulus package to help ailing American workers, businesses and local governments remained elusive Wednesday, with the U.S. Senate rejecting a scaled-down, Republican-backed bill and bipartisan negotiations over a broader package continuing with no concrete results.
Lawmakers voiced optimism that Congress still could pass a stimulus bill before the presidential election, but with less than two weeks to go House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested it may not be possible to get a deal inked before Nov. 3.
The state of play over a broader coronavirus bill has been in constant flux. Negotiations have stalled for months, with President Trump at one point calling off the back-and-forth talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin before resuming them again a few days later.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell privately told Republican lawmakers on Tuesday that he had warned the White House against striking a pre-election deal with Pelosi. But in a public statement, McConnell committed to putting a bill on the floor for consideration if a deal is made.
“If such a deal were to clear the House with the presidential signature promised, we would put it on the floor of the Senate and let the Senate consider it,” McConnell said this week.
Pelosi and Mnuchin met Wednesday and are expected to continue discussions on Thursday.
“I'm optimistic, because even with what Mitch McConnell says, ‘We don't want to do it before the election.’ But let's keep working so that we can do it after the election,” Pelosi said during an interview on MSNBC on Wednesday. “We want to before. But again, I want people to know, help is on the way.”
After Wednesday’s meeting, a spokesman for Pelosi said the latest conversation with Mnuchin “brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation.” The two sides continue to work out differences over health priorities, including a national testing strategy, and schools, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.
As negotiations continued to play out, the Senate rejected a $500 billion Republican plan that would have boosted federal unemployment benefits, renewed the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, allocated $100 billion to schools, and provided additional funding for testing and vaccine development. The measure was unable to garner the 60 votes needed to advance and failed in a 51-44 party-line vote.
McConnell said the legislation wouldn’t have completely satisfied either Republicans or Democrats, but that it “would move us past Speaker Pelosi’s all-or-nothing obstruction and deliver huge support, right now, for the most pressing needs of our nation.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer called the bill a political stunt meant to provide cover for Republicans because McConnell doesn’t have the votes to pass a broader bill.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.