House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin are expected to continue negotiations on a coronavirus relief package this week. A deal before the election remains uncertain despite some concessions from both Democrats and Republicans over the last week. President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 prognosis continues to be a mystery, as the President, his medical team, and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have issued incomplete, confusing, and contradictory statements.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are charging ahead with the Senate Judiciary Committee Supreme Court nomination hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett on October 12, despite Judiciary Committee members Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) testing positive for COVID-19. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are calling on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to delay the nomination process, citing safety concerns over an in-person hearing. They also insist that a “virtual confirmation hearing for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is not an acceptable substitute.”
House Democrats and the Trump administration have moved closer on the overall price tag of the coronavirus relief package – $2.2 trillion and $1.62 trillion, respectively – and some major relief provisions. For example, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s latest offer includes $50 billion for the Provider Relief Fund and $75 billion for testing and contracting – both in line with Democrats’ updated Heroes Act.
However, they still have “significant disagreement in key areas,” according to Speaker Pelosi. In a Dear Colleague letter, Speaker Pelosi outlined their five priorities: (1) unemployment insurance; (2) funding for schools, states, and localities; (3) child tax credit and earned income tax credit; (4) the use of testing and contact tracing funds; and (5) appropriations. Speaker Pelosi pointed out that House Democrats have reduced their updated Heroes Act by $144 billion, but the White House wants $44 billion more in cuts. As for aid to states and localities, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin offered $250 billion but House Democrats are pushing for $436 billion – nearly half the amount they proposed in the original Heroes Act.
Speaker Pelosi suggested that the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis “changes the dynamic” and may help get a deal across the finish line. On Saturday (October 3), President Trump, in a tweet, called on both parties to “work together and get it done.” Still, House passage of the updated Heroes Act last Thursday (October 1), by a 214-207 vote, provides Democrats, especially moderate Democrats facing tough races, with some political cover on the campaign trail in case a deal is not reached.
On Wednesday (October 7), Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) go head-to-head in the first vice presidential debate, which takes on greater significance considering the President’s hospitalization. Debate moderator, Susan Page of USA Today, has not yet announced the specific debate topics, but they will likely include a range of health care issues discussed at the presidential debate, such as the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration’s health care plan, and the coronavirus pandemic. There will be nine topics and approximately 10 minutes to discuss each topic.