Negotiations over a coronavirus relief bill dragged into the weekend, with the clock ticking for Congress to provide legislation on urgently needed aid as well as an omnibus government spending measure. President Trump signed the hastily drawn continuing resolution , extending the deadline for Congress to pass a funding bill for another 48 hours.
Members of Congress did not seem any closer to a deal on Saturday, although they continued to insist that negotiations were coming to an end.
“We’re right within reach,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured House Democrats in a conference call with members of her caucus on Saturday. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor that it is “time for a conclusion,” adding “we are close to an agreement but we need to finalize it.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said Congress must “conclude our talks, draft legislation, and land this plane.”
“There is a kind of gravitational pull here in Congress, where unless we are careful, any major negotiation can easily slide into an unending catalog of disagreements. Let’s guard against that,” McConnell said.
Despite these words from McConnell, there is a final sticking point in negotiations: A proposal introduced by GOP Senator Pat Toomey and supported by the Republican conference that would wind down the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending programs established by the CARES Act in March.
“The legislation, my language, that I’m trying to get in this package, reiterates these CARES facilities end on December 31, as Congress intended,” Toomey said in a speech on the Senate floor on Saturday.
However, Democrats argue there is still need for these lending programs, and are accusing Republicans of allowing the economic outlook to worsen ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“The biggest impediment is this late comer to the party which to me is harmful to the economy and is slowing down our being able to get this agreement. It would forever prohibit the president from engaging in exactly what President Obama did at the time of the Great Recession,” Pelosi told House Democrats in the call on Saturday, referring to lending programs established by the Fed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. “It’s a way for them to say to Joe Biden, we are tying your hands. No matter what comes down the pike, you can’t do this.”
Toomey met with Schumer in the minority leader’s office later on Saturday.
“I think we should be able to get a deal done, I don’t know the time frame,” Toomey said.
Senator John Thune, the Republican majority whip, said he believed it’s possible negotiations could wrap up by Sunday, but warned negotiations could drag into next week.
“I think at this point the probably more likely scenario is that maybe it rolls into Monday, but I think we’re on the homestretch, we’re on the glide path,” Thune told reporters on Saturday.
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana had a more gloomy outlook on the likelihood of a deal being reached by Sunday.
“I don’t think this is going to be resolved anytime soon,” Kennedy told reporters on Saturday. “I could see us here until New Year’s or Christmas Eve.”