Lawmakers return to take up 2nd coronavirus stimulus bill, agree to avoid government shutdown

Politics

FILE – In this Aug. 3, 2020, file photo dark clouds and heavy rain sweep over the U.S. Capitol in Washington. At least a government shutdown is off the table. But as lawmakers straggle back to Washington for an abbreviated pre-election session, hopes are fading for a pandemic relief bill, or much else. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Lawmakers head back to Washington for an abbreviated preelection session to tackle a new coronavirus stimulus bill.

Despite the bipartisan unity that drove almost $3 trillion in COVID-19 rescue legislation into law this spring, talks between top Democrats and President Donald Trump’s administration broke off last month and remain off track.

Expectations in July and August that a fifth bipartisan pandemic response bill would eventually happen despite obstacles has dwindled as lawmakers disagree on key points. Recent coronavirus-related conversations among pivotal players have led to nothing.

The chances seem unlikely for another round of $1,200 direct payments, the restoration of more unemployment benefits to those who’ve lost their jobs because of the pandemic, updates to a business subsidy program, and money to help schools reopen and states and local governments avoid layoffs.

Trump said Monday that Democrats “don’t want to make a deal because they think that if the country does as badly as possible … that’s good for the Democrats.”

“I am taking the high road,” he told reporters at the White House. “I’m taking the high road by not seeing them.”

“I personally would like to see one more rescue package, but I must tell you the environment in Washington right now is exceedingly partisan because of the proximity to the election,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at an appearance in Kentucky last week. “We’ve been in discussion now for the last month or so with no results so far. So I can’t promise one final package.″

Many Senate Republicans are also wary or opposed outright to another major chunk of debt-financed virus relief, even as GOP senators like Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado plead for more. Republicans are struggling to coalesce around a unified party position — and that’s before they engage with Democratic leaders, who are demanding far more.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have highlighted that some of the obstacles include cost, scope and details of a potential relief bill. 

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have promised to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month by keeping a government-wide temporary spending bill free of controversy. That measure is likely to keep the government running into December. It’s likely to contain a bunch of lower-profile steps, such as an extension of the federal flood insurance program and a temporary reauthorization of spending from the highway trust fund.

The decision for a “clean,” controversy-free stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, means that both sides will forgo gamesmanship that uses the threat of a government shutdown to try to gain leverage. Trump forced a shutdown in 2018-2019 in a failed attempt to extract money for his U.S.-Mexico border wall, while Democrats lost a shutdown encounter in 2017 over legislation to help immigrants brought illegally to the country as children win permanent legal status.

“Now we can focus just on another relief bill, and we’re continuing to do that in good faith,” Vice President Mike Pence said Friday on CNBC.

But if talks continue to falter, there’s little to keep lawmakers in Washington long, particularly with the election fast approaching.

The Senate returns on Tuesday to judicial and administration nominations. The House doesn’t come back until Sept. 14 for a schedule laden with lower-profile measures such as clean energy legislation and a bill to decriminalize marijuana. Some Democrats are expected to continue to take advantage of remote voting and may not return to Washington at all.

Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

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