Raju: Right now, we’re in a state of uncertainty. It’s clear both sides recognize something NEEDS to happen before lawmakers head back for the holidays and wrap up the work of the 116th Congress. But it’s still uncertain what negotiators will agree to, whether the leaders on both sides of the aisle will sign off on it, and perhaps the biggest question of them all: Whether President Donald Trump will sign it.
That means there’s a ton of work to do to reach an agreement, get buy-in from all sides and get this to the President’s desk before the new deadline: December 18.
Cillizza: Which plan has a better chance of actually passing: The bipartisan $908 billion one or the new $916 billion one from the White House?
Raju: It’s going to be a combination of both — with input from the leadership and the White House. And both plans are light on details. The focus is on the bipartisan plan at the moment, but at some point, the leadership will have to step in and it will have to be a negotiated settlement between the White House and the so-called four corners of Congress: Pelosi, Schumer, McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Cillizza: What’s the timeline for getting something done? End of next week? Later? Sooner?
Raju: Next week is the drop-dead date at this point.
Congress is going to pass a one-week stop-gap resolution to extend the government funding deadline until December 18. They want to attach Covid-19 relief to a massive, omnibus spending bill to keep the government open until October 1, 2021.
But that omnibus bill has its own problems, too — the two sides are at odds on thorny issues that they are trying to resolve. Really, if they want to meet the December 18 deadline, they need to have the outlines of a deal that the Hill leadership and the White House have agreed to by the end of this week because it will take several days to finalize bill language, then they will need to ram it through Congress in just a few days. But doing so will require cooperation from all members in the Senate since any senator can slow down legislation, and that is always a possibility.
Cillizza: Who matters most right now? McConnell? Manchin? Someone else?
Raju: McConnell and Pelosi are the most important players. Even when McConnell isn’t directly involved in the talks, his buy-in is essential to getting a deal done. And Pelosi needs to sell her caucus to accept a deal that is far smaller in size and scope than what she has been demanding for months. Typically, there’s a center of the universe in negotiations — Pelosi and Mnuchin for example in recent talks; at the moment, it’s this bipartisan group. But that will shift eventually to the leadership.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “When Congress leaves for the holidays, the most likely thing they have passed on Covid relief is __________.” Now, explain.
Raju: “When Congress leaves for the holidays, the most likely thing they have passed on Covid relief is vaccine distribution.”
Even with so much needed right now, from small business loans to extending expiring jobless benefits, vaccine distribution is the one that is least controversial and most urgent. Neither side wants to be blamed for not providing the resources to ensure the American public is vaccinated from Covid-19. The bipartisan group proposes $3.4 billion for grants for states and localities and another $2.6 billion for vaccine distribution and infrastructure. We’ll see how much they ultimately agree to include in the spending package.