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Aid Talks Inch Ahead, McConnell Resists10/21 06:25

   Negotiations on a huge COVID-19 relief bill have taken a modest step 
forward, though time is running out and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, 
President Donald Trump's most powerful Senate ally, is pressing the White House 
not to move ahead.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Negotiations on a huge COVID-19 relief bill have taken a 
modest step forward, though time is running out and Senate Majority Leader 
Mitch McConnell, President Donald Trump's most powerful Senate ally, is 
pressing the White House not to move ahead.

   McConnell told fellow Republicans that he has warned the White House not to 
divide Republicans by sealing a lopsided $2 trillion relief deal with House 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi before the election --- even as he publicly said he'd 
slate any such agreement for a vote.

   Pelosi's office said talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday 
were productive, but other veteran lawmakers said there is still too much work 
to do and not enough time to do it to enact a relief bill by Election Day.

   McConnell made his remarks during a private lunch with fellow Republicans, 
three people familiar with his comments said, requesting anonymity because the 
session was private.

   The Kentucky Republican appears worried that an agreement between Pelosi and 
Mnuchin would drive a wedge between Republicans, forcing them to choose whether 
to support a Pelosi-blessed deal with Trump that would violate conservative 
positions they've stuck with for months. Many Republicans say they can't vote 
for another huge Pelosi-brokered agreement.

   McConnell said if such a bill passed the Democratic-controlled House with 
Trump's blessing "we would put it on the floor of the Senate." Those public 
remarks came after the private session with fellow Republicans.

   Trump is hoping for an agreement before the election, eager to announce 
another round of $1,200 direct payments going out under his name, but it's 
increasingly clear that time has pretty much run out. If he wins, Trump is 
promising relief, but if he loses --- as polls are indicating --- it's unclear 
that his enthusiasm for delivering COVID-19 aid will be as strong. Recent 
history suggests that any post-election lame-duck session in the event of a 
Trump loss wouldn't produce much.

   "It's not a question of 'f.' It's a question of 'when,'" said Senate GOP 
Whip John Thune of South Dakota. "We have to do more. We know that."

   Pelosi said earlier Tuesday that she and Mnuchin remained at odds over 
refundable tax credits for the working poor and families with children, the 
size of a Democratic-sought aid package for state and local governments and a 
liability shield for businesses and other organizations against lawsuits over 
their COVID-19 preparations.

   Pelosi's spokesman, Drew Hammill, wrote on Twitter that she and Mnuchin then 
spoke for 45 minutes and found "more clarity and common ground" and that "both 
sides are serious about finding a compromise." Another conversation is slated 
for Wednesday.

   The Pelosi-Mnuchin talks also involve pandemic jobless aid, the second round 
of $1,200 direct payments and money for schools, testing and vaccines.

   Pelosi had said Tuesday was a deadline day, but she clarified in an 
interview with Bloomberg News that the aim is to spur the two sides to exchange 
their best proposals on a host of unresolved issues, not to close out all of 
their disagreements or have final legislative language at hand.

   "Let's see where we are," Pelosi said. "We all want to get an agreement."

   Pelosi has instructed her committee chairs to try to iron out details, but 
the Senate GOP negotiators do not appear as eager as she is.

   "It's getting to be toward the last minute and the clock keeps ticking 
away," Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Tuesday. 
"I'm not optimistic about doing anything."

   Aides familiar with the talks say the price tag for a potential 
Pelosi-Mnuchin deal is inching close to $2 trillion. Senate Republicans are 
recoiling at both the size of the measure and Pelosi's demands, even as Trump 
is beating the drums for an agreement.

   "I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats. Not every Republican 
agrees," Trump said Tuesday on Fox News Channel. "But they will."

   McConnell, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with votes this week on GOP measures 
that stand little chance of advancing. On Tuesday, the GOP-held chamber went on 
record in favor of another round of payroll subsidies for businesses such as 
restaurants and hotels that are having particular difficulty during the 
pandemic.

   But while the vote put the Senate on record as supportive of the idea, it's 
not aimed at advancing the measure through time-consuming procedural steps that 
could interfere with a floor schedule dominated by the nomination of Amy Coney 
Barrett to the Supreme Court.

   On Wednesday, Trump's GOP allies in the Senate are slated to support a 
revote on a virus proposal with a net cost of about $500 billion, though it 
does not include the $1,200 direct payments that are so important to Trump. But 
the Senate GOP bill has failed once before, and Trump himself says it's too 
puny.

   The goodwill and bipartisanship that powered the $1.8 trillion bipartisan 
CARES Act into law in March has largely dissipated. It passed by an 
overwhelming margin as the economy went into lockdown. Since then, Trump and 
many of his GOP allies have focused on loosening social and economic 
restrictions as the key to recovery instead of more taxpayer-funded help.

 
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