Teeing it up: Did Congress reach a breakthrough overnight on COVID-19 relief bill? Politico: No, *really*... WaPo: Stimulus checks back in?

Maybe this time it’s different. I’m not holding my breath, though. Haven’t we heard this before?

Congressional leaders closed in on an agreement to provide a new tranche of coronavirus relief on Tuesday, haggling deep into the night over how to spend hundreds of billions of dollars before adjourning for the year.

“We’re making significant progress and I’m optimistic that we are going to be able to complete an understanding some time soon,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he left the Capitol after a day of furious negotiating. “We’re getting closer.”

Top lawmakers vowed that they would not head home for the year until they pass a coronavirus relief deal, the strongest signal yet that McConnell, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are on the verge of breaking the months-long stimulus stalemate. Congress has not passed a significant new round of aid since April.

There was lots of chatter on Twitter about this last night from reporters on Capitol Hill, too. They wrote about breakthroughs, concessions, and so on, which sounds exactly like what we heard a few weeks ago after the election. Remember when the centrists got together and provided a $908 billion “framework” for negotiations and everyone gushed over it? Just like the time in August when the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House produced a $1.4 trillion “framework”?

The only thing for sure that’s changing is the numbers. And those are going down, thanks to a supposed sorta-agreement by the two sides to drop their competing asks:

While the congressional leaders did not publicly discuss details, their discussions were prompted by a $748 billion proposal from centrist senators to spend on small businesses education, vaccine distribution, health care and beefing up unemployment benefits. Republicans have said they want to jettison talks over a liability shield and $160 billion for state and local government, though Democrats have yet to concede defeat on the local funding issue.

The plan now is to attach the now-skinny Phase 4 bill to the continuing resolution that has to pass by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. McConnell now says the Senate won’t adjourn until both bills pass:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate will not leave Washington for the holidays until a coronavirus aid package is passed, saying he supports waiting until next year to tackle the most divisive issues to reach a deal.

Lawmakers are trying to hammer out an agreement by Friday, when Congress hits the deadline to pass legislation to keep the government funded. Leaders from both parties hope to attach the Covid-19 aid package to the government funding bill.

“We’re not leaving, I assure you. We’re not leaving until we finish this package,” McConnell, R-Ky., promised.

Doesn’t that sound … familiar? It should: Nancy Pelosi made the same pledge for the House almost exactly three months ago. How did that work out? In this case, though, the CR is truly a must-pass bill, but there has been nearly no public debate over its contents, either. That vote looks like a mere formality. The easy lay-up to split an endless stream of imaginary money? Not so much, as it turns out.

Also, it looks again like Congress will punt on a second round of direct stimulus/relief payments again. That’s now an issue in Georgia, where the two Democrats are using the issue as a populist rallying cry against the GOP:

The two Democratic candidates, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are both arguing that Congress needs to include direct payments to Americans in coronavirus relief legislation. Ossoff in particular is emphasizing the topic, while drawing attention to comments that his opponent, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), has made in the past that are critical of direct payments.

Stimulus payments have been popular with the public, and Democrats are hoping that highlighting the issue could help them with voter turnout.

“This might be the kind of appeal that might motivate voters to go to the polls,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

It’s amazing to see seasoned politicians blow it so badly on this lay-up with voters. If you’re gonna send cash to businesses and bureaucracies from the Imaginary Treasury, you’d better cut voters in on that deal, too. How tough is it to figure that out?

Anyway, now that I think it through, I’m much more confident that this time we’ll get to kick the football through the Phase 4 goalposts. Tee that sucker up — here we come …

Update: Try singing “Don’t Stop Believing” while reading this red-siren update from Politico’s Jake Sherman:

You mean the solution that was obvious in July? Get. Out. And I still won’t buy it until I see a floor vote. This leadership caste could f*** up a wet dream. And have, repeatedly.

Update: Looks like meat’s back on the table, boys! The Washington Post reports that stimulus checks will be a part of a new relief bill. If…

Congressional leaders are near an agreement to add a new round of stimulus checks to a roughly $900 billion relief package as they rush to complete a deal before the end of the week, according to three people familiar with the talks granted anonymity to share internal deliberations.

A bipartisan proposal released earlier this week by a group of moderate lawmakers excluded another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. But as congressional leaders tried to resolve differences in recent days, they decided to try and include a round of direct payments in the emerging legislation. The payments under discussion on Wednesday morning could be less than the $1,200 approved in the Cares Act in March, however.

This one’s so easy that’s it’s difficult to believe it wasn’t in there all along.