WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — If you were betting political gridlock centered around the November election would come to an end after Americans went to the voting booth, you lost that bet.
Nearly a month after voters decided the next president, Congress is no closer to finding common ground on coronavirus relief or getting new direct payments to Americans.
Before the Thanksgiving holiday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who is the lead stimulus negotiator for Democrats, said the holiday season is marked “with great pain, great pain that in our country in the course of this year, 250,000 Americans have lost their lives to the coronavirus.”
Pelosi noted that Congress has yet to pass any further coronavirus relief aid and placed blame for the inaction on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Over six months ago when we passed the Heroes Act, Leader McConnell said we need a pause. We need a pause. Well, I would hope that for him, the pause can come to an end. Nearly 200,000 people have died during that pause, so we’re asking him to come back to the table,” Pelosi said.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans generally say a new stimulus bill is needed, but they disagree on the scope of it. Some Republicans are opposed to another round of checks directly to most taxpayers, and some don’t want Washington to “bail out” state and local governments that had financial struggles before the pandemic.
As November ends, Pelosi continues to eye a bill in excess of $2 trillion while McConnell is looking for a much smaller package in the neighborhood of $500 billion.
The New York Times reports President-elect Joe Biden’s team is urging Democrats to reach a quick stimulus deal — even if it doesn’t include everything they’re looking for. The Times notes Biden’s advisors fear economic conditions could worsen as his January inauguration approaches. They’re anxious to get more relief to Americans before the end of the year.
At issue is a huge virus relief bill that would send another direct payment, restart bonus unemployment benefits, fund additional testing and vaccines, provide aid to schools and allocate money to state and local governments, a Democratic priority.
A $1.8 trillion rescue plan in March passed the House virtually unanimously. The larger Pelosi-pushed package has run into resolute opposition from Republicans. Taking care of the issue would clear the decks for a fresh start on the congressional agenda next year.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell continued to push for new relief earlier this month saying, “I think we’ll have a stronger recovery if we can just get at least some more fiscal support.”
If no agreement can be reached in the next few months, a deal will fall on Biden’s new administration. Economic recovery is listed as one of his “day one priorities” on the Biden-Harris transition website. There is no direct mention of stimulus checks on the economic recovery plan outlined.
However, the president-elect has said that “we must spend whatever it takes, without delay, to meet public health needs and deal with the mounting economic consequence,” but he did not specify a stimulus payment amount.
Along with expanding free COVID-19 testing, mounting a national emergency effort, and funding state and local governments, part of his plan also calls for emergency paid leave covering 100% of weekly salaries or average weekly earnings capped at $1,400 a week.
Eligible recipients include sick workers, workers caring for family or loved ones, those with increased risk of health complications from COVID-19, domestic workers, caregivers, gig economy workers and independent contractors. Parents dealing with school closings would be eligible for paid leave as well as child care assistance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.