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Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 8, 2020. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
COVID-19

White House ups offer in virus aid before talks with Pelosi

Associated Press Oct 9, 2020
Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 8, 2020. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The White House is boosting its offer in up-and-down COVID-19 aid talks Friday in hopes of an agreement before Election Day, even as President Donald Trump’s most powerful GOP ally in the Senate said Congress is unlikely to deliver relief by then.

Trump on Friday took to Twitter to declare, “Covid Relief Negotiations are moving along. Go Big!” A top economic adviser said the Trump team is upping its offer in advance of a Friday conversation between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The two spoke for more than 30 minutes Friday afternoon, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill.

A GOP aide familiar with the new offer said it is about $1.8 trillion, with a key state and local fiscal relief component moving from $250 billion to at least $300 billion. The White House says its most recent prior offer was about $1.6 trillion. The aide requested anonymity because the negotiations are private.

“I would like to see a bigger stimulus package than either the Democrats or Republicans are offering,” Trump said on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show Friday. Earlier this week, Trump lambasted Democrats for their demands on an aid bill.

Pelosi’s most recent public offer was about $2.2 trillion, though that included a business tax increase that Republicans won’t go for.

But GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told an audience in Kentucky that he doesn’t see a deal coming together soon out of a “murky” situation in which the participants in the negotiations are elbowing for political advantage.

“I’d like to see us rise above that like we did in March and April but I think it’s unlikely in the next three weeks,” McConnell said.

He spoke after Trump apparently performed an about-face, empowering Mnuchin to resume negotiations with Pelosi, D-Calif., on a larger, comprehensive coronavirus relief package despite calling off the talks just days before.

White House economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow told reporters Friday that “developments are positive” and that “the bid and the offer have narrowed” in advance of a telephone conversation later Friday between Pelosi and Mnuchin.

McConnell remains a skeptic that a deal can come together — and he has issued private warnings that many Senate Republicans will oppose a deal in the range that Pelosi is seeking.

“We do need another rescue package,” McConnell said. “But the proximity to the election and the differences about what is need at this particular juncture are pretty vast.”

Later Friday, during an appearance in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, McConnell said: “I don’t know whether we’ll get another (virus-relief) package or not.”

McConnell added that “the first item of priority of the Senate is the Supreme Court. We’ve got a stunningly outstanding nominee.” He later said: “We intend to put her on the Supreme Court in the next few weeks.”

McConnell’s remarks capped a tumultuous week in which Trump and sent conflicting signals and made unworkable demands. On Tuesday, he ordered an end to the weekslong talks after being told that few Republicans in Congress would end up voting for a possible Pelosi-Mnuchin deal.

After taking blowback for that decision, Trump sought to revive the negotiations on Thursday. Yet even as Mnuchin was reengaging with Pelosi, staffers in the White House — working under Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a key negotiator — were issuing demands for a smaller package stuffed with Trump’s priorities.

All of this comes as Trump is sliding in the polls and is sidelined by his COVID-19 infection. The White House is short-staffed and dealing with infections among its staff. And the president and Pelosi are attacking each other’s mental health.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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