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McConnell Says Senate Would Hold Stimulus Vote If Deal Reached

(Bloomberg) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his chamber would take up a comprehensive coronavirus stimulus package if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are able to resolve the final areas of disagreement and get a bill through the House.

McConnell didn’t say whether he would support such a deal, or encourage GOP members to back it, however. He spoke after Pelosi said in a Bloomberg Television interview that while there are areas where more work is required to get an agreement, progress was being made on key provisions and legislative language is being drafted.

Some GOP members still oppose spending on the scale of what’s now under discussion, leaving it uncertain whether it could pass in the Senate, especially in the two weeks before Election Day.

Pelosi’s more positive read on negotiations, compared to her comments in recent days, helped stocks extend gains Tuesday. The S&P 500 Index was up 1% as of 2:52 p.m.

Liability Issue

Pelosi flagged that assistance to state and local authorities and providing income assistance to working families remain areas where work is needed. On a Republican push to provide businesses with liability protection against virus-related lawsuits — a particular priority for McConnell — she expects to present a counter-offer to Mnuchin Tuesday afternoon. She said a compromise is possible based on strong government Covid-19 workplace regulations.

“We are starting to write a bill,” Pelosi said, adding that she was pleased with the Trump administration’s latest position on coronavirus testing and tracing. The two sides are also “in range” on other health care provisions, she said.

McConnell said Tuesday, “If a presidentially supported bill clears the House, yes, we’ll bring it to the Senate floor.” He also said the Senate would debate the bill “at some point,” without specifying it would be before the election.

The size of the stimulus deal continues to be a stumbling block for GOP members opposing a stimulus of $1.8 trillion or more. House Democrats are pushing $2.2 trillion, and Trump said Tuesday that he could embrace a number “even bigger than the Democrats.”

“It’s very unlikely that a number of that level would make it through the Senate, and I don’t support something of that level,” Senator Mitt Romney told reporters, referring to a number of $1.8 trillion or higher.

Senate Skepticism

Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby said his staff doesn’t have the details from Mnuchin or Pelosi they need to work out a bill.

“I’m not optimistic about us doing anything,” Shelby said. “We should have done something and we had the opportunity and the Democrats wouldn’t do it several months ago.”

Trump Tuesday reiterated his view that McConnell will proceed with any bill agreed between the administration and Pelosi. “He’ll be on board if something comes,” he said on Fox News.

Some Republican senators were not so sure. “I do know that there would be some dissenters on that figure,” Texas Senator John Cornyn said about a larger proposal.

If all Senate Democrats and independents support a compromise bill, it would need the support of at least Senate Republicans to make it to Trump’s desk to become law.

Vote Attempts

McConnell is still moving ahead with his plan to vote on a smaller bill on Tuesday, calling Democrats out on an “all or nothing” approach.

Tuesday afternoon, McConnell will try to stage a test vote on a bill allowing unused funds from the March stimulus law to replenish the Paycheck Protection Program to aid small businesses. On Wednesday he plans a $500 billion stimulus, along the lines of what he tried and failed to pass last month. Democrats are expected to block both efforts.

Republicans resisting a bigger package would be put in a jam if Mnuchin and Pelosi do get a deal, as they’d have to choose whether to fold and support their president or expose intra-party divisions. But time is running short for a compromise to get enacted by the Nov. 3 election.

“It might not be finished by Election Day,” Pelosi said. “We need our legislation all written by the end of this week” for that to happen, she said. She added that she’d like to speed ahead in an effort to help people before rent payments are due on Nov. 1.

The speaker gave no indication that all remaining issues must be resolved by the end of Tuesday; she and her spokesman had previously tagged today as a key point to determine whether a pre-election relief act was possible.

On ‘Path’

“It isn’t that this day was a day we would have a deal. It was having the terms on the table to be able to go to the next step,” Pelosi said. “We are on a path. You have to be optimistic.

Pelosi said she’s telling her colleagues not to worry about any “collateral benefit” that could accrue to Trump if a deal is sealed before Nov. 3.

She expressed particular optimism that the Trump administration has now agreed to a strategy designed to “crush the virus.”

The speaker has tasked House committee chairmen to work out legislative language on a bill with their Senate Republican counterparts. Talks among appropriations committee members are so far stalled because the levels of spending in accounts they have been charged with resolving are interlinked with with unresolved areas in the core Pelosi-Mnuchin talks, according to aides in both parties.

The appropriations staff members have hit a “bump in the road,” Pelosi said, adding that legislation is always “tough.”

It would take several days after an Pelosi-Mnuchin agreement for the spending committees to negotiate out the details, according to a GOP aide.

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