A Federal COVID Relief Package During A Lame Duck Congress?

On Wednesday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called on Congress to approve a coronavirus relief package before the end of the year.

With the balance of the Senate and the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue uncertain as of November 5, Sen. McConnell’s statements present a shift from his recent suggestion that a measure was more likely early in the 117th Congress.

Prior to the election, negotiations over another coronavirus relief package were handled predominantly between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Despite reported progress, negotiators failed to reach an agreement on the overall price tag of the next coronavirus relief package.

The Trump Administration proposed a $1.8 trillion deal; Speaker Pelosi called for funding exceeding $2 trillion; and Senate Republicans expressed reluctance to support any package that exceeded $1 trillion.

Liability protections remain a top priority for Senate Republicans; Speaker Pelosi insists robust state and local aid is paramount for Democratic support.

During a November 4 press conference, Leader McConnell said, “We need another rescue package. Hopefully the partisan passions that prevented us from doing another rescue package will subside with the election and I think we need to do it and I think we need to do it before the end of the year.”

Passing relief legislation during the final weeks of the 116th Congress is not an easy task.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and senior Senate Appropriations Committee member, said he will “be surprised if we’re able to get a whole lot done in a lame duck session.”

Meanwhile, President Trump is challenging the election in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Nevada. While the path to 270 electoral votes appears to favor Vice President Biden, it may be weeks until official results are certified.

This uncertainty could result in Senate Majority Leader McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker Pelosi serving as the primary negotiators.

Unlike recent months, Congressional leaders may be more inclined to reach an agreement given the reduced Democratic House majority and a strong likelihood that Senate control may be delayed until two Senate runoff elections in Georgia occur on January 5.

In addition to a coronavirus relief measure, Congress must keep the government funded beyond the current December 11 continuing resolution deadline.

Should Congress pass a coronavirus measure before January, an outstanding question is whether President Trump would sign the legislation into law.

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