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Coronavirus Relief Bill Stalled Between The White House And Democrats


Stalled - that is the word of the day on Capitol Hill as top Democrats meet once again with White House negotiators. They are hoping to come to an agreement on another round of coronavirus aid. Both sides say they want a deal. Both sides say they've made progress. But so far, none of the people involved are suggesting that a deal is near - all of this despite signals that the economic pain caused by the pandemic is deepening in all corners of the country. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been covering the talks, and she joins us live.

Hi, Kelsey.


VANEK SMITH: So the previous coronavirus relief bill was passed with really strong bipartisan support. Why is this negotiation so different?

SNELL: Well, to start with, they took months - Republicans took months to agree that even needing an additional aid was where they were going to be. And then it took weeks of debate on how much that aid would include and what it would do. Now, Republicans today don't even agree amongst themselves on what should be in an eventual bill. In fact, Senate Republicans are completely absent from these talks. This is all being done by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. And they're talking with Democrats, who then go and brief Senate Republicans afterwards.

Now, this is creeping closer and closer to the election. That's part of what's happening here. And that's really a big part of the core of the disagreement. Republicans are badly torn over how to handle the crisis without compromising their political beliefs on big government intervention, but they're also trying to satisfy President Trump, who keeps shifting the goalpost. It has made things very complicated.

VANEK SMITH: So, Kelsey, tell us more about the divisions among the Republicans.

SNELL: Yeah. Conservative Republicans are opposed to additional aid. Some are opposed to aid at all, and they want to focus on reopening. Many of the more moderate Republicans, particularly the people up for reelection, want to see some spending. They see polls. They see people worried about paying their bills. And they don't want to have to campaign as somebody who denied voters that support.

Now, one example of where they're fighting about funding is state and local money. Now, that is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been warning that he really does not expect widespread support from Senate Republicans if and when a deal is reached. Here's what he said.


MITCH MCCONNELL: If you're looking for a total consensus among Republican senators, you're not going to find it. So we do have divisions about what to do.

SNELL: So - but total consensus is what delivers votes. And it's a dynamic that gives Democrats a ton of leverage, though the ultimate arbiter of whether or not anything they pass becomes law is President Trump.

VANEK SMITH: So what role are Mnuchin and Meadows playing in these talks right now?

SNELL: Mnuchin's kind of seen as the deal-cutter in the administration, but that's not necessarily an asset with some of these Republicans who think he's already given away a lot in these previous negotiations. Meadows, on the other hand, you'll remember, was a congressman just a few months ago. And when he was in Congress, he was known for being kind of a bomb-thrower, leading insurrections against spending deals. That puts them kind of at odds. But they're trying to keep an upper hand by floating the possibility today of using some unexplained executive actions, like a payroll tax cut, to, you know, to keep people in negotiations.

VANEK SMITH: Is it possible that Congress could leave for its scheduled August break without a deal?

SNELL: Republicans are pretty split on this. It would be terrible optics for them if they do leave town. But keeping them here with nothing to do gives them pretty bad optics, too. They'll be sitting there, fighting amongst one another, trying to get something done. So there's a lot of pressure. That often means that something will get done. It's just very hard to see where the compromise is right now.

VANEK SMITH: NPR's Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.