As Democrats and White House Narrow Disagreements on Additional COVID Aid, Any Deal Will Face Significant Senate Opposition

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter 

While negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin begin to narrow in their disagreements over further pandemic-related aid, with President Donald Trump calling for a large package, there’s little indication that such an agreement could clear the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell (R-Ky.) has panned both ends of the offers proposed by the White House and House Democrats, telling multiple Kentucky-based outlets that his members remain opposed to the White House’s offering.

"I don't think so. That's where the administration is willing to go. My members think half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go," McConnell said, asked about the prospect of a deal totaling between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion, roughly the parameters under which Mnuchin and Pelosi are operating.

Instead, McConnell plans to have the Senate vote on a very narrow bill focused on funding for the Paycheck Protection Program while talks continue. When the Senate returns on October 19, he said, “our first order of business will be voting again on targeted relief for American workers, including new funding for the PPP.”

Even if a deal were reached in the coming days, there would be very little to no floor time available in the Senate since Republicans plan to take up Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as soon as October 22. 

Since Democrats have been balking over the efforts to wrap up the nomination process before the November 3 election, they will likely use every procedural tool available to them to slow down the nomination process and eat away at the availability to consider other legislation, including coronavirus relief aid. 

Further souring aid negotiation prospects is that with the election approaching, Republican senators have in some instances begun distancing themselves from the administration, with Trump's election prospects appearing to narrow, setting up what could be a tumultuous lame duck session in which intraparty hostilities between Republicans could widen, depending on the results.  

While Pelosi has faced pushback from some members of her caucus, urging her to accept a proposed $1.8 trillion aid proposal offered by Mnuchin in the latest round of talks, she has remained steadfast in urging members to allow for the negotiations to unfold.

“House Democrats know firsthand how necessary it is to come to agreement. To our constituents, we promise: HELP IS ON THE WAY. It will be safer, bigger and better, and it will be retroactive,” the speaker wrote in a dear colleague letter. ”We must come to agreement as soon as possible, but not before we are truly helping the people without accommodating the Republicans’ surrender to the virus.”

House Democrats earlier this month passed a revised version of their Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which set aside $208 billion for a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, 13% of which (or $27 billion) must go to public institutions of higher education and will be distributed by governors. Another $11.9 billion will go directly to institutions, including $3.5 billion for Minority-Serving Institutions, $7 billion for private nonprofit institutions, and $1.4 billion for public and nonprofit institutions with unmet need, including those that operate entirely online.


Publication Date: 10/19/2020

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