Mr. Trump vowed that a recovery plan would pass “immediately after I win,” but there was little indication that the powerful political disincentives that have so far stymied efforts to strike a bipartisan deal would dissipate in the lame-duck session that bridges the weeks between Election Day and the start of a new Congress in January. The election outcome, aides and lawmakers warned, could in fact deepen the intransigence on both sides, further delaying relief to Americans.
For months, even as the economic need grew and the contours of a compromise became clear, political forces have conspired to thwart a stimulus deal. Republicans who feared Mr. Trump was headed for defeat in November began polishing their fiscally conservative credentials in anticipation of future campaigns, including the 2024 presidential race, by asserting their opposition to another costly aid plan. By staying out of the talks early and remaining disengaged at key moments, Mr. Trump confounded many in his own party by failing to push Republicans to cut a deal, a detachment that only grew after he signed executive orders in August that attempted to bypass Congress to deliver some relief.
And Democrats, sensing mounting Republican political vulnerability, have been unwilling to make many concessions — which could provide a potential political lifeline to Mr. Trump and his party — when they believe an electoral sweep for their party in November could allow them to push through a far more generous bill after Election Day. Top Democrats believe that voters increasingly see Mr. Trump as a “chaos” president, and that a last-minute agreement could temper that perception.
“Their political positions are far apart, and their polling, which is being done daily, says they’re not being punished for not doing a deal,” Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office who runs the conservative think tank American Action Forum and remains close to many Republicans in Congress, said last week. “The minute that changes, they’ll shift.”
The elements of an agreement have been obvious for some time: a price tag somewhere around $2 trillion, including extended aid of around $400 a week for the unemployed, additional support for small businesses and direct payments to low- and medium-income households, liability protections for businesses and workers, and more money for schools, state and local governments and coronavirus testing.
Democrats had started negotiations north of $3 trillion, with a bill that passed the House in May. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, waited until midsummer to present his party’s $1 trillion plan, but has since scaled down his offer considerably, to $350 billion, even as the Trump administration was reaching for a much larger package. Mr. Trump has been a disruptive force in the negotiations, never making clear what he wanted and by turns cheering on the talks and moving to blow them up.