Could Congress manage to get its act together today? Or this evening? Or ever? The word from overnight negotiations between Chuck Schumer and Steve Mnuchin show progress being made, and the Senate Majority Leader now tells Roll Call that a deal could be reached as soon as this afternoon on the $2 trillion CARES Act relief bill.
Of course, Schumer said that over the weekend too — right before torpedoing it:
Principals negotiating a $2 trillion economic rescue package for a nation on virtual lockdown from COVID-19 reported substantial progress late Monday with a deal potentially on Tuesday morning and votes later in the day.
“We expect to have an agreement tomorrow morning,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said just before midnight after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland. “That’s the expectation, that we will finish it tomorrow and hopefully vote on it tomorrow in the evening.”
“There are still a few little differences. Neither of us think they’re in any way going to get in the way of a final agreement,” Schumer added. He said two of his caucus’ priorities — “workers first and a ‘Marshall Plan’ for hospitals” — were “very strongly in the bill.”
Mnuchin told reporters that negotiations would restart this morning, but that he also felt that an agreement was closer now. One development this morning involved Mnuchin directly, in fact. He and the White House agreed to more robust oversight over the operation of the loan program rather than just have Mnuchin operate it on his own:
The White House has agreed to allow enhanced scrutiny over a massive loan program that is a centerpiece of the Senate’s $2 trillion coronavirus economic package, two people briefed on the discussions said, taking steps to address a major Democratic concern and potentially pave the way for a vote by Tuesday night.
The Senate bill allows the Treasury Department to extend $500 billion in loans and loan guarantees to try and blunt the virus’s economic impact. Of that amount, $425 billion is supposed to go to businesses, cities, and states. Another $50 billion would go to passenger airlines, $8 billion more for cargo airlines, and an additional $17 billion would be directed for firms that are deemed important to national security. …
The precise oversight structure for the new lending program could not be determined, and it was also unclear whether the oversight structure would be as robust as what was created during TARP. By Monday evening, a number of Republicans were on board with making changes to win Democratic support.
“Could we have more transparency on this federal facility program? Sure, absolutely, I would be very supportive,” Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said on a Senate floor speech Monday night.
That’s a smart and wise concession, but will it be enough? And will Trump agree to letting that authority get devolved away from his direct control? The president remains in the loop on all the developments, Mnuchin said, and is supportive of the direction in which the bill is now evolving:
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” Mnuchin told reporters on Capitol Hill just before midnight after emerging from negotiations. “There’s still a couple of open issues, but I think we’re very hopeful that this can be closed out (Tuesday).”
Mnuchin said that he and Schumer had consulted with both President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Monday about the progress made on the legislation. Though no deal was reached, staff was expected to continue drafting the massive package overnight. …
Mnuchin called the president, Schumer said, and told him “we were very, very close to the agreement [and] he seemed very happy with that.” He also added that Trump seemed “very positive” about the status of the talks.
Schumer said that he hopes they can complete the agreement Tuesday and vote on it by the evening.
That call would have taken place at about the same time as this tweet, however:
Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation. The Democrats want the Virus to win? They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies. They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn’t agree!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2020
What about Nancy Pelosi? Anything passed by the Senate has to get passed by the House, and they’re not yet back in town for business. The plan, according to Politico Playbook, was to have Schumer do all the negotiating and then try to pass it without objection while much of the House remains out of town. Pelosi blew up the negotiations in order to push her own version of coronavirus relief in order to give Schumer more leverage:
TRUTH BE TOLD, Democrats did do quite well here in exerting their influence. As of late Monday night and early this morning, sources told us, the $500 billion fund for corporations got additional oversight, and there was more money for hospitals in the bill. Marianne LeVine, Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan with details
DEMOCRATS WERE SO PLEASED WITH THE DIRECTION of the talks that PELOSI convened her leadership on a call Monday with this message: Let me know what you hate about the Senate bill, so we can work it out. It was a message she had been delivering since last week, but this time, it was a tad bit more urgent since the negotiations were proceeding apace. PELOSI released her own bill — a long piece of legislation aimed at giving something to Democrats to rally around.
THE PROCESS seemed to be going as planned. Until Trump’s tweet.
Meh. If the process was to highlight just how wedded Democrats are to special interests and their activist extremes, then yes, the process went as planned. To everyone else, the process got hijacked by Pelosi at the last minute and forced unnecessary uncertainty in an environment where anxieties are already skyrocketing in and out of the markets. Pelosi’s laundry list of hobby horses in her bill show pretty clearly that she, if not most Democrats, view this crisis as a unique opportunity to exploit rather than a situation requiring a laser focus on the actual problem.
If Pelosi gets even a fraction of what she wants, Trump’s tweet won’t interrupt her plan to get the bill approved. The House might need to come back into session to deal with it, but the House should be in session right now anyway in some form in this crisis. If they are nervous about the lack of social distancing in the chamber, then the House and Senate should change their rules to allow for remote debate and voting — working in some manner to remain in control of their responsibilities.
If Schumer actually signs onto an agreement today, Pelosi won’t have any more leverage in the matter anyway. Once that happens, expect a swift passage of the bill, perhaps by tomorrow after the cloture vote, unless Mitch McConnell works around it more quickly. If Pelosi obstructs a bipartisan Senate agreement, the media treatment of Democrats over the last 36 hours will look like hosannas in comparison to what will follow.
Update: Pelosi said a few minutes ago on CNBC, “The question is, who has the leverage?” She poses it as a slam at Republicans, but it’s a bit more self-revealing. Now, however, Pelosi signals that she’s probably going to push whatever Schumer negotiates: