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Pandemic Relief Stalled       10/22 06:25

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Negotiations on a COVID-19 relief bill are inching 
forward, but it's clear the window for action before the Nov. 3 election is 
closing and the issue will be tossed to a postelection lame-duck session of 
Congress.

   The only thing that seems certain beyond that is uncertainty, with Capitol 
Hill veterans cautioning against expecting a quick and smooth resolution for an 
aid package that has tied Washington in knots for months.

   Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke again 
Wednesday but her office signaled no real progress, and she acknowledged for 
the first time publicly that the measure won't pass before the election.

   President Donald Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, accused Pelosi of 
slow-walking the talks. Trump's most powerful Senate GOP ally, Majority Leader 
Mitch McConnell, is warning against a costly deal that could drive a wedge 
between the president and his fellow Republicans.

   No one knows whether Election Day will bring much more clarity.

   "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 in two weeks 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.

   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 states and 
local governments, a Democratic priority.

   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.

   Pelosi remains optimistic, even after Washington was blanketed with media 
reports that McConnell, R-Ky., has warned the White House against sealing a $2 
trillion or so relief deal with Pelosi before the election.

   "Let's keep working so that we can do it after the election," Pelosi said 
Wednesday on MSNBC.

   "We obviously want to have a deal by Nov. 3," Pelosi told SiriusXM radio. 
"That really is going to be up to whether the president can convince Mitch 
McConnell to do so."

   McConnell says the GOP-controlled Senate is not buying the need for 
legislation as large as Trump wanted. And Meadows told reporters that Pelosi is 
still too uncompromising.

   "We haven't seen a lot of action from Speaker Pelosi," Meadows said. "Most 
of the progress we've made have been concessions that the president has made."

   Senate Democrats blocked a Senate GOP plan that McConnell brought to a vote 
Wednesday. 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 
does not include the $1,200 direct payments that are so important to Trump.

   Trump says that if he wins reelection, aid will flow immediately. When 
former President Barack Obama won reelection in 2012, for instance, he went on 
to prevail in "fiscal cliff" negotiations on taxes.

   If he loses, it's unclear whether Trump's enthusiasm for delivering it will 
be as strong. Lame-duck sessions during White House changeovers in 2008 and 
2016 didn't deliver much.

   But Pelosi said she believes McConnell "might not mind doing it after the 
election."

   Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., acknowledged that lame-duck sessions typically 
aren't very productive, but he added, "Normally they don't have this kind of 
emergency, either."

 
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