It's been 122 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which Mitch McConnell has refused to take up, and it's 16 days until the government runs out of funding with the end of the fiscal year. Oh, and the election is in 50 days. All those things will be in sharp relief in the next two weeks, because that's about how long Congress intends to be in session.
At this point, what's going to happen is as clear as one of Donald Trump's rally rants. No one knows what will happen. It seems likely at this point that a government funding bill in the form of a continuing resolution, keeping funding going at current levels, into mid-December is the likeliest thing to happen. Republican staff in the Senate floated the idea of Mitch McConnell trying to take a hostage or two with coronavirus relief attached to that government funding, but he seems to have lost the stomach for doing that. He held a vote on his skinny, poisoned-pill COVID-19 bill that provided more relief to the coal industry than to struggling Americans, knowing that bill would fail and he could blame Democrats. He also knew that the traditional media would play his game and blame the Democrats, too. Presumably, he feels his work is done.
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With McConnell remaining steadfastly opposed to taking up any other relief bill, that leaves House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needing to act. So far, she's resisted the clamoring from the cadre of Democrats in Republican-leaning districts to act again. Because it has been four months since they took the vote on the HEROES Act and it's getting harder to tell their constituents that the stalemate is the Republicans' fault. It IS McConnell's fault, primarily. Even Trump wants to at least send another round of direct aid to everyone. But the fact remains people are hurting and many are going to blame the closest elected congressperson for much of that pain. They pressured Pelosi in a call last week, but she's so far resisted.
"We don't want to go home without a bill, but don't be a cheap date," Pelosi reportedly said on the call. "When you are in a negotiation, the last place to get weak knees is at the end." That's absolutely true, but also doesn't answer the problem of the House not having had another relief vote, except for the $25 billion for the Postal Service that they passed in a one-day session last month. Some of the members on the call pushed the idea of passing chunks of the relief bills in hopes that something would break through in the Senate for a vote, or at least break the logjam in talks. Pelosi and Democratic Leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, argued against that, saying the card to play is Treasury Secretary Mnuchin.
"I think they will come back again," Schumer said of the White House, three sources on the call told Politico. "The weaker they are, the better off we are. And that means the more heat they get and the more that Mnuchin is able to persuade Trump, that if he doesn't get something done here, it's going to be certain that he won't be reelected."
"We have to wait for them to come to us, if they don't come to us—we will not get something your caucus can support," Schumer reportedly said. Pelosi and Schumer are right in rejecting the idea that the House come down from the $3+ trillion HEROES Act. She's already said she's willing to go $2 trillion. Further than that makes any bill passed inadequate. One possibility she's considering is passing elements of the HEROES Act as standalone bills. This idea might be gaining some traction, passing the direct checks, restored enhanced unemployment checks, more small business loan funding, and more for coronavirus testing. Taking them a bite at a time would keep them alive, and keep pressure on McConnell and, more importantly, his vulnerable conference members.
While all this is not being worked out, the nation is still struggling. State and local governments are in full crisis with 1.3 million public sector jobs already lost and economists projecting that number will double by the end of 2021 if Congress doesn't act and act big. "If we don't get [federal aid], then we at the state level are going to be really in a life-or-death, sink-or-swim condition," said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, told the Washington Post. "The first stimulus really worked. The second one needs to go forward. The idea that you're going to shortchange state budgets because they're of a different political party obviously is unacceptable."
"Quite frankly, the inaction of Congress is going to prolong the impact on the economy. It very much means that this is going to be a very slow recovery," Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said. That could be what McConnell and team have in mind, looking ahead to a likely presidential win by Joe Biden. They can cripple his administration with an economic crisis before it even begins. If Trump manages to keep himself in office, well, Republicans don't really care what happens. They'll have free rein to steal everything they haven't taken yet, and whatever happens to regular Americans happens.
So, yeah, this is the most important election in modern American history. All the way down the line, but especially the Senate.