WASHINGTON – Negotiations on a COVID-19 relief bill are inching forward, but it's clear the window for action before the Nov. 3 election is closing and the issue will be tossed to a postelection lame-duck session of Congress.
The only thing that seems certain beyond that is uncertainty, with Capitol Hill veterans cautioning against expecting a quick and smooth resolution for an aid package that has tied Washington in knots for months.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke again Wednesday but her office signaled no real progress, and she acknowledged for the first time publicly that the measure won't pass before the election.
President Donald Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, accused Pelosi of slow-walking the talks. Trump's most powerful Senate GOP ally, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is warning against a costly deal that could drive a wedge between the president and his fellow Republicans.
No one knows whether Election Day will bring much more clarity.
“I’m never very optimistic about the lame duck and I’ve never been surprised,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. “You don’t get near as much done as you think you’re going to get done.”
Those Republicans willing to speculate about a Trump loss in two weeks say not to expect much, either.
“I think Democrats would want to wait until the new president is sworn in and do it then and I think Republicans probably would say ... the economy’s taking care of it,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.