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East front U.S. Capitol Nov. 28, 2018. (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

After abruptly breaking off talks with Democrats on a pandemic relief package early last week, President Donald Trump on Friday raised the GOP proposal to $1.8 trillion, $200 billion over the previous offer, in an effort to seal a deal sooner rather than later. 

“Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday.

But it’s unclear if Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, would be willing to go along to pass a bill.

At an event in Kentucky Friday, before Trump’s new bid, McConnell said that a deal was “unlikely in the next three weeks” before the election.

The uncertainty leaves states like Nevada, which is among the hardest hit because of the tourism and entertainment industries at a virtual standstill as a result of the pandemic, without aid for the foreseeable future. 

Congress approved the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March, but funds are dwindling and several provisions have expired, including a $600 a week bonus payment to those collecting unemployment insurance benefits. Nevada reported a 13.2 percent unemployment rate in August. The national unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in September.

“I’ve heard from thousands of Nevadans who find themselves lying awake at night, trying to figure out how to pay their rent, feed their kids, and take care of family members at elevated risk from COVID-19,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto after Trump initially broke off talks. “We can’t wait.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell also last week called on Congress to provide another economic stimulus package for fear that the economy will lose momentum. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she remained hopeful that an agreement could be struck. “I’m hopeful because it has to be done,” Pelosi said.

Her spokesman, Drew Hammill, on Friday said that the new White House bill lacks a satisfactory virus-eradication plan.

“Of special concern, is the absence of an agreement on a strategic plan to crush the virus,” Hammill wrote on Twitter. “For this and other provisions, we are still awaiting language from the Administration as negotiations on the overall funding amount continue.”  

But with the election in a few weeks and mindful of crafting something that can be touted to their base voters as a victory, the two parties remain at odds over fundamental areas of the package, such as how much overall aid to provide and exactly how to spend it.

Both the House and Senate did not hold any roll call votes last week.

Stop negotiating

Before re-engaging Democrats with a new offer, Trump, on Tuesday, took to Twitter to announce that he was calling off talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. His tweet came soon after he was released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland where he received treatment for COVID-19, as questions arose about whether he should have been discharged and the level of danger he posed to others

“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump said

In recent weeks, the two sides had managed to shrink the difference in the topline spending levels that each support. House Democrats recently passed a $2.2 trillion package earlier this month, down from their initial proposal of $3 trillion. The White House had previously proposed a $1.6 trillion plan, which is $100 million more than where they were before talks last broke down in August.

Trump criticized the Democrats’ bill echoing complaints from other Republicans, including McConnell, that the House package included too many other extraneous provisions.

The House Democratic bill is designed “to bailout (sic) poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19,” Trump said

Among the provisions that Republicans have called out include allowing undocumented individuals to receive aid and a provision that would remove—for one year—the $10,000 limit on deducting state and local taxes (SALT) from federal taxes. The SALT cap was imposed by the 2017 tax reform law, pushed through by Republicans and Trump, and hit taxpayers hard in states with high taxes such as New York, New Jersey, and California, which have Democratic governors.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that he supported Trump’s decision. “I think his view was that they were not gonna produce a result, and that we needed to concentrate on what’s achievable,” McConnell said of Trump's move to cut off talks.

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is in a difficult reelection campaign, distanced themselves from Trump’s move. Collins called it a “huge mistake.”

In the thread ending talks, Trump retreated to his previous position and urged Congress to pass portions of the bill that he backs one by one, including sending out another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. He also called for repurposing unused funds from the last package, the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

“The House & Senate should IMMEDIATELY Approve 25 Billion Dollars for Airline Payroll Support, & 135 Billion Dollars for Paycheck Protection Program for Small Business,” Trump said. “Both of these will be fully paid for with unused funds from the Cares Act. Have this money. I will sign now!”

Democrats

Pelosi, Thursday, rejected the idea of a piecemeal approach, as she did when the White House previously advanced the idea.

She argued that passing a standalone measure for one group and not another would not be fair. 

“If he wants to wait until after the election, then that would be unfortunate because more people will die, more will be infected, more kids will have uncertainty about how they're learning, more kids will go without food... and again, more people will be fired from our state and local government,” Pelosi said. “So every day of delay is a problem.”

She also ruled out the possibility of a vote on a standalone measure to provide aid to airlines, which have laid off tens of thousands of workers as demand for air travel has plummeted, without a guarantee of a passage of a broader pandemic relief bill.

There was a possibility earlier last week that Congress would act to reverse the layoffs by passing legislation providing funding. 

An airline bill would help speed the recovery in Nevada, to the state's congressional delegation said in a recent letter to House and Senate leaders urging them to extend the Payroll Support Program (PSP). Established in the CARES Act, PSP is designed to prevent layoffs of airline industry workers, but the program expired at the beginning of the month and as a result, several airlines have announced layoffs.

Democrats reacted sharply following Trump’s announcement. In a call with House Democrats Tuesday, Pelosi, reportedly, cited possible side effects from dexamethasone, a steroid the president received, as the reason for Trump’s decision to end the talks. The side effects include  mood swings and “frank psychotic manifestations,” according to The Washington Post.

All of Nevada’s congressional Democrats also criticized the president. 

“It is unconscionable that President Trump announced his intention to stop negotiating on a relief bill until after Election Day,” Rep. Dina Titus said on Twitter. “People in Las Vegas are hurting right now through no fault of their own and they simply cannot afford to wait.”

SCOTUS

In lieu of continuing pandemic aid talks, Trump urged Senate Republicans to focus on confirming his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 

Senate Judiciary Committee hearings will begin Monday and last all week. Some members are set to appear remotely.

The Senate had planned to be in session last week, but McConnell canceled votes to help ensure that no more Senate Republican get infected by the virus, a scenario that could cause a delay of Barrett's confirmation vote on the Senate floor, which is likely to be just before the election next month.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who both serve on the judiciary panel, and attended the White House event announcing the Barrett nomination where the virus appears to have spread. 

Thirty-four people, including guests at the event and others who came in contact with Trump at the recent presidential debate have so far been infected. 

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also recently announced that he has the virus, but pledged to vote for Barrett in a ”moon suit” if he still has the virus come the day of the vote. Republicans control 53 votes in the Senate.

Asked if he had been to the White House recently, McConnell, who has encouraged his colleagues to wear masks and maintain social distance, said he has not. 

“I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th,” he told reporters Thursday. “Because my impression was that their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I suggested that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing."

For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

SEN. CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO

Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3517 – Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors Act or the ACCESS Act

SEN. JACKY ROSEN
Legislation co-sponsored:

S. 3517 – Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors Act or the ACCESS Act

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