Politico: COVID-19 relief negotiations flopping ... again; Update: Omnibus stalled too

Say what you will about expectations of copy editing for professional publications, but some typos tell the story better. (Or so we tell ourselves around here.) For instance, Politico’s morning newsletter reports that — quelle surprise! — negotiations on Capitol Hill for COVID-19 relief have stalled out yet again. The stumbling blocks are liability shields for businesses and bloc-granted state and local government aid … yet again. Plus, this time there is now new opposition to the idea of passing relief without direct stimulus payments, an idea popular everywhere but for some reason left out of the centrists’ “framework.”

Here’s how Politico’s newsletter reported it this morning, emphasis mine:

Stimulus stuck as U.S. sinks deeper into Covid — Well, here we go yet again. Congress remains suck on a coronavirus relief bill pretty much where they’ve been stuck for months, over liability and state and local government assistance.

“Congress remains suck.” Truer words have not often been written in such a concise manner. Hopefully, Politico won’t fix it.

Marianne Levine reported last night that Congress’ suckage is precisely the same suckage that has prevented any action since the end of July. Not even the names have changed:

While a bipartisan cohort of senators, led by Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), is working to finalize language for the $908 billion package, the Senate is also facing an imminent deadline to fund the government. Congress is expected to pass a one-week continuing resolution, as it works out the details of an omnibus package. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said coronavirus relief should be attached to the omnibus.

As he was leaving the Senate on Monday night, McConnell told reporters: “I’m optimistic we’re going to get somewhere, but I have no report at the moment about how.”

McConnell, for months, has made clear that any coronavirus relief package will need to include liability reform to protect businesses and schools from lawsuits related to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, Democrats are calling for robust funding for struggling state and local governments. The bipartisan group has yet to reach a final decision on how to address the issue. …

Sen. John Cornyn described Monday evening’s conversation in the Senate’s Mansfield Room as a “robust exchange of ideas” but added “there’s no consensus yet.” The Texas Republican said he suggested removing language related to liability reform and state and local aid, another sticking point, but that his proposal “went over like a lead balloon.”

And this is how Congress remains suck. So much for the centrist framework!

Meanwhile, Dick Durbin wants to increase the power of the suck. The Hill reports that the #2 Senate Democrat will leverage opposition to liability protections to gain the top Democratic post on the Judiciary Committee. Some in the caucus had expressed concerns about a leadership position gaining a chair or ranking member status at the same time:

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) is taking the lead on Democratic opposition to a business-friendly GOP proposal in coronavirus relief negotiations as he seeks the party’s top post on the Judiciary Committee. …

In the midst of the high-stakes talks, Durbin is running to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) as the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is facing opposition from some progressive groups who favor Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Democratic strategists predict that Durbin will make sure other members of the Democratic leadership and caucus sign off on any potential deal with Cornyn and the GOP.

“He can’t afford to cut what many on the left would consider a bad deal with Cornyn over these liability provisions,” said one Democratic strategist and former Senate aide. “This is going to be a little bit tricky for him.”

So it’s the same old problem — Democrats want to protect trial lawyers, while Republicans won’t give states any bailout money that’s not earmarked specifically for COVID-19 relief. We’ve been having the same argument since July. Plus, now we have a new one, because the centrist framework sucked out the one provision on which nearly everyone agreed — direct relief to taxpayers with a second round of stimulus checks:

Hawley argues that it is “wild” that a Senate GOP proposal and a bipartisan $908 billion plan offers aid but doesn’t include more checks like those $1,200 payments in March’s massive CARES Act package. And he said Trump seemed receptive to the argument.

“We had a good conversation about it. And, you know, a pretty thorough conversation. He asked a number of questions about the state of play of the different proposals. And I think it’s fair to say that he was surprised at the direction that some of these were headed,” Hawley said. …

“Getting the $1,200 direct payments to workers during this unprecedented crisis should be a slam dunk. Sen. Hawley seems to understand that, and Sen. Sanders will talk to anyone to get this done,” said Faiz Shakir, who managed Sanders’ presidential campaign. …

And several other progressive politicians endorsed Hawley and Sanders’ fight on Monday evening, further complicating the politics. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said she would not support a bill without a relief check, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sounded down on the bipartisan effort that doesn’t include the checks.

“Direct checks are an excellent way to get money into the hands of people who desperately need it,” Warren said. “I am very worried that the dollar amount is too low [in the bipartisan framework]. … I’m also very worried about the liability provisions. We cannot agree to release employers who have caused employees to get sick.”

It’s an utter clown show, and has been for months. It’s almost a satire in itself that Congress can’t act in this crisis even with imaginary money. It’s as if Congress received 535 Monopoly games, only to debate whether to require Boardwalk and Park Place to offer low-income housing, and whether to finance that by privatizing the railroads and utilities, before agreeing to play a single game.

It’s been a while since we featured this classic Adult Swim clip, but, well … the deal is getting worse all the time. And that sucks.

Update: Hey, it’s not just on COVID-19 relief that Congress remains suck. They remain suck on the overdue budget, too:

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