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As time runs out, optimism fades for a pre-election stimulus deal

WASHINGTON – Optimism faded on Friday for a pre-election breakthrough on a stimulus package aimed at stabilizing a fragile recovery from the pandemic era, as negotiations between the main Democrats in Congress and the White House overtook limping another self-imposed milestone with no deal or resolution in sight.

In what has become somewhat of a familiar pattern of high hopes followed by snail speed progress, President Nancy Pelosi insisted she was still optimistic about a deal being struck, so even a second day in a row passed without discussions between her and Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury, who was her negotiating counterpart. Instead, both sides said it was up to the other to break the deadlock.

President Trump, who has not spoken to Ms Pelosi for over a year but recently decided he must have a stimulus deal before he faces voters on November 3, said she “would rather wait after the election – she thinks it’s a good point for the election.

Mr Mnuchin, whom Mr Trump deputized for to offer all manner of concessions to Ms Pelosi, lamented that the speaker was “buried”.

“If she wants to compromise, there will be an agreement,” Mnuchin said.

And Ms Pelosi said she was hopeful, telling MSNBC that “we will be able to resolve some of the objections.”

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“We could do it before the elections, if the president wishes,” she added.

Her comments hinted at the political calculation of Ms Pelosi, who has consistently pushed for a more generous bill with Republicans reluctant to provide more aid, and she sees no political objection to continuing to pressure the White House for more concessions, no matter what. the calendar says. They also pointed to a grim political reality for Mr. Trump, who is watching the clock much more closely, knowing he is likely to be judged by voters on the strength of the economy and his handling of the pandemic. coronavirus.

With only six days of work left before election day, time is essentially up for a stimulus deal to be enacted before the last day of the poll, with Ms Pelosi previously telling reporters the text should be completed by now the end of this week. to become law on November 3.

Any deal would take days to be drafted in legislative language, receive a formal cost estimate, and be approved by the House. It would take at least a few more days for such a deal to pass by the Senate, where major legislation needs 60 votes to move forward and Republican leaders have said they have no interest – and little to no votes – for the kind of compromise the Blanc House and Ms Pelosi are considering.

“It would take a colossal meeting – just a big meeting – to put together a stimulus package,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who spoke with both. Mr. Mnuchin and Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “I think it’s a very dubious and slim chance that we get any kind of stimulus before the election.”

Without action, tens of millions of Americans will spend at least one more month without additional federal unemployment benefits; small businesses, schools and hospitals will struggle to stay open during the pandemic; and the slowdown in the country’s economic recovery will continue to weaken.

Senators – who spent a rare Friday session in a procedural brawl over Republicans’ rush to confirm Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court candidate Justice Amy Coney Barrett – expect to leave Washington on Monday to join their counterparts from the House in a last-minute campaign wave. It is unlikely, given the stark differences in policy and price, that a deal between Ms Pelosi and Mr Mnuchin will cause Republicans in the Senate to reconvene the chamber for days of procedural votes when their majority is over. stake.

“A lot of my colleagues are looking to some sort of what things will look like after President Trump, and of course there is an election in between here and there that we still have to focus on and win,” the senator said. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. journalists. “Tensions and moods are pretty high and very hot right now about this Barrett appointment, so we’re struggling to have constructive conversations.”

Ms Pelosi and White House officials insisted that progress had been made in the talks, and Drew Hammill, her spokesperson, said Friday night that the helpers would continue to work throughout the weekend to put together a stimulus plan.

The two sides are still far apart on a Democratic demand for $ 500 billion in aid for state and local governments, the size of outdated federal unemployment benefits and Republican pressure for liability protection. People familiar with the efforts to negotiate the outstanding issues have privately said little progress has been made towards a deal that Senate Republicans can support.

“We want this to be a bipartisan bill – the next bill to come, one that eliminates any doubt that it would become law,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. At a leadership meeting Thursday, she revealed that several Democrats had told her they did not want to return to Washington to vote on a relief bill without guaranteed adoption in the Senate, according to a person familiar with the discussion, who l ‘disclosed on condition of anonymity because it was private. The conversation has already been reported by Politico.

Republicans say Ms Pelosi, considering another term as president and possible Democratic control of both Houses and the White House, never intended to seek a deal that could strengthen Mr Trump’s position in the elections. surveys. (Ms Pelosi scoffed at the suggestion on Friday, saying, “Why would we even talk to each other? It’s not like we share values ​​or anything.”)

Mr. Trump, who has hesitated between rejecting the talks and encouraging Congress to “go further,” insisted he had the political power to persuade Republicans to approve any deal. But many Republicans do not trust Mr Mnuchin, who they say privately abandoned long-standing party principles in an effort to win Democrat support. They fear that he will draft a compromise that will alienate the party base.

With the time that elapsed before the elections, it was increasingly likely that any deal would result in a lame session, in the last few months before a new Congress is called and when political incentives change dramatically, leaving it uncertain the fate of any unfinished legislation.

“Once the dust settles and the smoke clears from the election, it will be a better posture to legislate,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second Republican in the Senate, who said he could predict that an agreement would be announced before election day. , but pending after the ballot for a vote. “I hope then everyone can come out of their corner and try to find a solution.”

Zach Montague and Alan Rappeport contributed reporting.