WASHINGTON — The US Senate adjourned for a month Thursday, further signaling there will be no coronavirus relief package passed this summer, nearly three weeks after unemployment benefits expired.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled the next Senate vote for Tuesday, Sept. 8. The House had already recessed for the summer. If a deal on a coronavirus aid package is reached before then, lawmakers will be given at least 24 hours' notice to get to Washington to vote.
As things stand, that seems unlikely. Talks between Democrats and the White House are at a standstill and the sides are not currently in active negotiations. Both parties have presidential conventions in the coming weeks, creating another distraction. The delay could be catastrophic for millions of Americans.
In March Congress passed the CARES Act extending $600-per-week federal unemployment benefits on top of state benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic. That, along with moratoriums on evictions, prevented a wave of homelessness. But that benefit expired at the end of July and eviction moratoriums have now lapsed in most states. About 30 million people are drawing unemployment benefits, with around 1 million new people applying each week.
The delay also means hundreds of billions of dollars for state and local governments, conducting the election, small businesses, COVID-19 testing, and reopening schools will not be sent out.
A new flashpoint opened up Thursday over funding the United States Postal Service. Democrats are pushing for $25 billion in postal funding and $3.5 billion to support mail-in ballots.
In a Fox Business interview Thursday, President Donald Trump seemed to oppose post office funding exactly because it would allow more people to vote by mail.
“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. “Now, if we don’t make a deal that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it. So, you know, sort of a crazy thing. Very interesting.”
Trump has frequently claimed, without evidence, that universal mail-in voting would end in mass voting fraud.
In place of a new aid bill, Trump announced an executive action Saturday to bring back the federal unemployment benefits at $400 per week, though it’s unclear what that order will actually do and whether it will hold up to legal scrutiny (Congress, not Trump, has the power to spend federal dollars). The White House later admitted the payments would actually be $300 per week. Anything on top of that would be up to the states.
Trump also announced he was extending the eviction ban on federally backed mortgages, which would have provided protection to about one-third of renters. But when the details were released, the ban was not extended.
Democrats and Republicans remain far apart in negotiations. Congress’s next true deadline to pass legislation is the end of September, when new money will need to be appropriated to avoid a government shutdown and other aspects of the CARES Act, like protections for federal student loan borrowers, will expire. House Democrats have passed a $3 trillion plan while Republicans put forward a $1 trillion proposal.
“We are miles apart in our values,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week. “Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gave a damn.”
Pelosi has publicly offered to meet in the middle — a $2 trillion bill — and negotiate on how to spend it. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, one of the key White House negotiators, accused the Democrats of not wanting to negotiate because they refuse to return to the table unless at least $2 trillion is agreed to. Pelosi confirmed she declined to meet with Mnuchin until the White House agreed to the $2 trillion price tag.