- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2020

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin chipped away at a coronavirus relief package but have not reached a deal, 24 hours before the speaker’s deadline for an Election Day deal.

The two “continued to narrow their differences” during a nearly hour-long phone call Monday afternoon, with Mr. Mnuchin traveling in the Middle East. Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, tasked her top committee chairs to work with their Republican counterparts in the Senate to negotiate on “key areas.”

“The speaker continues to hope that, by the end of the day Tuesday, we will have clarity on whether we will be able to pass a bill before the election,” said Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesman.

Time is running out to reach a compromise before the 48-hour deadline Mrs. Pelosi imposed on Sunday and then get a deal drafted, passed by both chambers of Congress and signed by President Trump before Nov. 3.

The impasse has dragged on for weeks, with Mr. Trump pushing for a big deal, albeit with different priorities than Mrs. Pelosi, while Senate Republicans are largely wary of another massive spending push.

On Sunday, Mrs. Pelosi sharply criticized the administration’s response to the Democrats’ national testing plan included in their proposal.

“Instead of recognizing the need for a strategic plan, they have changed words including ‘shall’ to ‘may,’ ‘requirement’ to ‘recommendation,’ and ‘strategic plan’ to ‘strategy.’ These changes make the funding a slush fund for the administration which ‘may’ grant or withhold rather than a prescribed, funded plan to crush the virus,” she wrote in a letter to Democrats.

The two sides also are still at odds over state and local government funding, the inclusion of liability protections for employers, the amount of unemployment benefits, and which tax credits to include — Democrats want various child and earned income credits, while the White House wants one targeted at businesses.

But even if a deal is reached between the White House and Democrats, it would come with a hefty price tag that might be too pricey for Senate Republicans.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican whip, said it would be “hard” but possible to get the GOP votes for a $1.8 trillion bill. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Monday that the administration’s offer is now nearly $1.9 trillion.

On Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will “consider” any potential deal — though he didn’t say when — and the White House expects to get the party in line, despite fears.

“But I think the Republicans will come along,” Mr. Trump told reporters.

Meanwhile, Mr. McConnell is teeing up two votes this week to address the pandemic in a slimmed-down approach. He has scheduled a Tuesday vote on a standalone bill to create a second round of Paycheck Protection Program small business loans, followed by a Wednesday vote on a $500 billion package.

“The Democrats’ talking points are not doing a single thing to fund more testing, more tracing, or double down on Project Warp Speed so we can produce and distribute a vaccine,” the Kentucky Republican said. “Nobody thinks this proposal would resolve every problem forever. What it does contain is half a trillion dollars of good that Congress can do right now, through programs that Democrats do not even say they oppose.”

The measure being considered Wednesday will be similar to the “skinny” bill Republicans proposed last month that included $300 a week for boosted unemployment benefits, more than $100 billion for schools, and additional funds for testing, contact tracing, and vaccine research.

Both measures need 60 votes, so Republicans need some Senate Democrats to support the legislation. The last bill sunk because of a united front against it by the left and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer has already denounced the bill, saying it has been laden with poison pills.

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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