Stimulus update: Pelosi pushes White House on virus testing as cases surge

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spoke for nearly a hour Monday, but chances of a stimulus deal happening before the U.S. presidential election remain slim.

“As the nation faces record spikes in new COVID cases, we continue to eagerly await the Administration’s acceptance of our health language, which includes a national strategic plan on testing and tracing,” Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said in a tweet. “We are hopeful their response will be positive as we also await the outcomes of talks between committee chairs.”

The statement appeared to reference another round of stimulus checks or direct payments, adding that one of the goals of any comprehensive bipartisan legislation is to “put money in the pockets of the American people.”

Along with the Trump administration, Pelosi is also putting pressure on Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as many Republicans in the Senate have declined to jump behind a large spending bill, despite the surge of coronavirus cases.

“It is clear that our progress depends on Leader McConnell agreeing to bipartisan, comprehensive legislation to crush the virus, honor our heroes – our essential workers … “

With just 8 days until the general election, Pelosi “remains optimistic” and says she’s not giving up on passing another coronavirus relief economic package before November 3.

At issue is a huge virus relief bill that would send another $1,200 direct payment to most Americans, restart bonus unemployment benefits, fund additional testing and vaccines, provide aid to schools and allocate money to state and local governments, a Democratic priority.

Pelosi says she wants a relief bill that is predicated on steps that science dictates should be taken to deal with the coronavirus, and “if we don’t, we’re just giving money to the president to spend any way he wants and that has not been in furtherance of crushing the virus.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday the administration has made many offers, but Pelosi “continues to move the goalposts.”

Meadows noted the relief bill being negotiated would cost about $1.9 trillion. Pelosi is hoping for a $2.2 trillion package. Meadows says he has a commitment from McConnell to bring a bill to the floor if negotiations with Pelosi conclude successfully.

During Thursday night’s debate, President Donald Trump blamed Pelosi for the fact no deal has been reached saying she doesn’t want to do anything that would help him.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden raised his voice as he reminded viewers of Thursday’s presidential debate that the Democratic-controlled House passed a relief bill months ago. He asked Trump why he isn’t talking to his “Republican friends” about a deal.

A $1.8 trillion rescue plan in March passed virtually unanimously. The Pelosi-pushed package today is even larger but 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.

Senate Democrats blocked a Senate GOP plan that McConnell brought to a vote last week. The measure contained more than $100 billion for schools, a $300 per week supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, and more subsidies for businesses especially hard hit by pandemic-related downturns and closures. It did not include the $1,200 direct payments that are so important to Trump.

Trump says that if he wins reelection, aid will flow immediately. If he loses, it’s unclear whether his enthusiasm for delivering it will be as strong.

“I’m never very optimistic about the lame duck and I’ve never been surprised,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “You don’t get near as much done as you think you’re going to get done.”

Those Republicans willing to speculate about a Trump loss say not to expect much, either.

“I think Democrats would want to wait until the new president is sworn in and do it then and I think Republicans probably would say … the economy’s taking care of it,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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