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Neither the House nor Senate were in formal session this past week, but both return next week. The top priority for the House will be to pass the President’s $1.9T Covid Relief Bill. The basic outline of the legislation has not changed since originally proposed by the Biden Administration with the centerpiece being $1,400 relief checks. Other major provisions include: $350B in money for state and local governments, extension of emergency unemployment past the March 14 deadline until August 29, adding $100 a week to supplemental unemployment benefits to bring the total to $400 a week, and a variety of programs ranging from housing and food assistance to school openings and vaccine distribution. The House is likely to include the $15.00 an hour minimum wage increase though its chances in the Senate are doubtful. The formal introduction of the bill should take place before the House Budget Committee early in the week, with the full House passing the bill by the end of the week staying in DC over the weekend if necessary. The deadline for passage remains March 14 when the unemployment cliff is reached, and federal unemployment programs expire. Assuming the House passes the bill next week the Senate will start consideration of the bill the week of March 1 and hopefully finish action by March 10. The House would then have four days to approve the bill with any amendments that may have been added by the Senate. This will require close coordination between Schumer and Pelosi to make sure that nothing is added in the Senate that would make House passage problematic. Minimum wage could be the main point of contention. President Biden, a seasoned legislator, will play an active role in this process and likely help resolve any differences between House and Senate. GameStop/Robinhood The hearing, as most Congressional hearings are, was more theater than substance. No ideas were put forward that might lead to new legislation. The Financial Service Committee members focused on the decision of Robinhood to suspend purchases of GameStop and tried to pierce the complexity of payment for order flow which is the core of the relationship between Citadel and Robinhood. Some better focus on this issue could occur next month when SEC Chair nominee Gary Gensler has his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee. At this point it seems unlikely that Congress would consider any legislative remedies but at some point there could be a study and proposed rulemaking by the SEC. Market manipulation, protection of retail investors, and technical market practices such as order flow could be part of the SEC study. Cruz trivia Much of the past two days in Washington has been consumed by the travel plans of the Cruz family. From a perplexing performance by the Senator on Fox’s Sean Hannity to the leaking of his wife’s emails it was a tough week for the Texas Senator. As someone who has run both a House and Senate office, I know that one of my jobs was to be on guard to stop my boss from making stupid mistakes, such as a resort trip when constituents were suffering, and leaders needed to be front and center trying to help. From badgering utilities to get power restored to helping get an emergency declaration these are steps constituents expect from their elected officials. Cruz isn’t up again until 2024 and in politics memories tend to be short, but not a good week.

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  • US Policy
Mar 6, 2020

Biden Pulls in Moderates Support; More Primaries Tuesday

A big political turnaround last week. It has been a defining week in the Democratic primaries, with four key moderates (Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Indianapolis mayor Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, and, after Tuesday, Michael Bloomberg) all backing former Vice-President Biden. Supporters of the three who dropped out before Tuesday’s vote seemed to rally behind Biden. Surprisingly when Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren left the campaign on Thursday she failed to endorse Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who seemed like her closest political ally in the progressive wing of the party. Sanders appears isolated on the left wing of the party, and is again the outsider trying to get in, a similar role to his revolutionary campaign of 2016. Hillary Clinton supporters blame bitter Sanders’s supporters who didn’t vote in 2016 as contributing to her loss, and Democrats will be on their guard this year to try and bring a conclusion to the campaign that has the party as united as possible. The selection of a veep candidate could play a role in this process. It seems likely that both Biden and Sanders would choose a woman as a running mate after all the female candidates failed to make the final cut. Tuesday brings six more primaries with Michigan and its 125 delegates the biggest prize. Furthermore, as Michigan has become a key swing state, a primary victory there strengthens the winner’s story that he is the best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump. Coronavirus The Congress and White House moved quickly to pass the $8 billion funding bill for fighting the coronavirus outbreak. The President’s initial proposal for $2.5 billion was quickly replaced with a bipartisan agreement for the higher level. However, the bill only provides assistance for immediate medical needs ranging from testing kits to aid to local health authorities as they staff up to face the crisis. The legislation contains money for accelerated research but, as the medical experts have cautioned, that is 12 to 18 months away under the most optimistic forecasts. The bill does nothing to help communities and businesses that could be hard hit by the spread of the disease as Americans cut back activities from travel to eating out. There are already some discussions of a broader stimulus bill, but deciding how money is distributed, picking winners and loser, and keeping it out of politics in an election year will be a challenge. However, a stimulus bill aimed at the crisis could be in the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars and potentially be a boost to markets. Figure: Top Trump Tweets The Federal Reserve is cutting but must further ease and, most importantly, come into line with other countries/competitors. We are not playing on a level field. Not fair to USA. It is finally time for the Federal Reserve to LEAD. More easing and cutting!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2020 There can be few things worse in a civilized, law abiding nation, than a United States Senator openly, and for all to see and hear, threatening the Supreme Court or its Justices. This is what Chuck Schumer just did. He must pay a severe price for this!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 5, 2020

Impeachment and COVID Relief

On Impeachment: I remember once I was giving a presentation on a major change in policy at the bank I was working for, as I was talking the CEO passed me a note: “your winning shut up.”  I suspect that was the content of the message pro-Trump Senators gave to the former President’s legal team as they prepare their arguments. While the headlines were all about impeachment this week, while the trial was going on the House committees were meeting on the COVID-19 relief package. Last week the Senate voted 56 to 44 to proceed with the impeachment trial over Republican objections that it was unconstitutional to impeach a former official.  While Democrats carried the day on the motion to proceed, and got six Republican Senators to join them, it will take 67 Senators to convict the President on the House impeachment charges.  With 44 Republican Senators on record as believing it is not constitutional to convict a former official there seems little chance that the Senate will convict.  With this solid base of support the expectation is that the President’s defense is a formality and that a majority of the 50 Republican Senators will vote to acquit former President Trump and fallback on the position that the trial is unconstitutional and not be concerned with the merits. Most observers believe that the House impeachment managers presented a strong case, and the hope of most Democrats is that the trial has weakened the ability of President Trump to play an active role in American politics – time will tell. Covid Relief: On the policy front while the Senate was holding the trial, various House Committees were busy preparing the actual legislative language for the massive $1.9T Covid Relief Bill.  Under the terms of the reconciliation process the various committees with jurisdiction write their language and then next week the House Budget Committee will take all the parts and create the actual bill. As the House writes the bill it must coordinate with the White House and most importantly the Senate Democratic leadership.  As with all legislation,  for a bill to be sent to the President it must pass in the exact same form in both the House and the Senate.  Often with big bills like Reconciliation the two chambers will pass different versions and then meet in a joint House/Senate Conference Committee to work out the differences.  However, with this Covid Relief Bill there is an urgency to pass it by March 14, so both chambers and the White House will have to strive to find common ground in the coming weeks. The House plans to pass its version of the bill the week of February 22 and give the Senate a week to work on the legislation.  The House and Senate will then have a week to work out any differences in order to meet the March 14 deadline. At this point the biggest issue of disagreement is likely to be an increase in the minimum wage.  Speaker Pelosi has said it will be in the House version of the bill; but it appears unlikely that the Senate will approve the increase to $15.00 an hour.  There are at least two Democratic Senators who have publicly opposed the idea; and as President Biden has conceded a minimum wage increase is unlikely to meet the procedural rules that are required of Budget Reconciliation. Bottom line is that Democrats appear poised to pass a large Covid Bill without putting together a bipartisan package; and get the bill to the President’s desk by March 14 when the current federal unemployment benefits run out.

Biden, Democrats Push $1.9 Trillion Program Forward

In the early hours of Friday morning Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tie-breaking vote to approve the Budget Resolution by the Senate. The Budget Resolution is a non-binding procedure that is part of the Budget Act of 1974 which establishes the process under which the Reconciliation process was established. The House will approve the Senate passed measure and then the various Committees of the House and Senate will start to write the Reconciliation Bill that implements President Biden’s $1.9T Covid Relief proposals. While there remains some slight chance that a bipartisan compromise can be reached, President Biden and Congressional Democrats have made clear they are more than willing to use the Budget Reconciliation process to push through the $1.9T measure. However, during the next few weeks there may be some modifications in the program put forward by the Biden Administration. During the Senate debate on the Budget Resolution there was a vote to curtail the $1,400.00 individual stimulus payment for “high earners.” While “high earners” was not defined there is a growing expectation that the Biden recommendation of individuals making up to $75,000 and families making up to $150,000 will be reduced. Under discussion is lowering the individual threshold to $50,000 and perhaps lowering the amount for each child. The House Ways and Means Committee will be the next legislative stop for the stimulus payments and the threshold decision should be made in the next two weeks. Another area of controversy is the Biden proposal to increase the minimum wage over five years to reach the level of $15 an hour. Senate Republicans offered a motion that states there will be no minimum wage increase during the pandemic. In a surprise move the new Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Bernie Sanders, accepted the Republican proposal and avoided putting Democrats on record for or against the minimum wage increase. There have been serious parliamentary questions as to whether or not increasing the minimum wage is allowed under the Senate rules that govern Reconciliation and it is not clear that there are 50 Democratic votes to increase the minimum wage at this point. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has been very public in his opposition to the minimum wage proposal, and with no Republican support that kills the idea. Next week the House will start to work on putting the broad ideas outlined by the White House into legislative proposals with the goal of passing the Reconciliation Bill by the end of the month. Next Tuesday the Senate is scheduled to begin the Impeachment Trial of President Trump. Unless there is a dramatic change there seem little reason to believe that the former President will be convicted. As seen in an earlier test vote of 55 to 45 Republicans made clear they are unlikely to vote guilty and will hold to the position that it is not constitutional to impeach a former President. The only question at the point is how long the trial will take. March 14 is the date federal unemployment insurance expires, and Democrats are united that they want the Covid Relief Bill passed before that deadline. If the House passes its version of the bill by the end of the month that will give the Senate at least a week to work on the House passed bill, and then the two versions will need to be reconciled in order to get a bill to the President’s desk. As a former Congressional aide I know the dirty secret that Congress can actually work quickly if they need to, especially when one party has control of the process. A final Reconciliation Bill passed by March 14 is a reasonable expectation.

Biden and Congress focus on relief strategy; GameStop grabs attention

Covid Relief The Democratic leaders in Congress are working with the White House to determine the best strategy to get a big Covid Relief bill through Congress by the target date of March 14. Why March 14? Under the Covid bill passed at the end of last year, extended unemployment and the $300 a week federal supplemental payment expire on March 14, a date that is being referred to in DC as the Unemployment Cliff. In the Senate a bipartisan group of 16 Senators has meet with senior White House staff in an effort to reach an agreement; but at this point it is not clear if compromise is possible. Democrats have made clear that in 2009, after President Obama’s landslide victory, Democrats spent too much time on both financial crisis relief and immigration negotiating with Republicans. Most Democrats are convinced that because of the fruitless talks they ended up with weaker legislation. Congressional Democrats are committed to not make the same mistake this time even though they are holding weaker cards with paper thin majorities in both the House and the Senate. Both Schumer and Pelosi have announced that they are going to put the machinery in motion that is needed to approve the Biden Covid package through Reconciliation. Reconciliation is part of the budget process and the first step is the approval of a budget for Fiscal Year 2021. Last year there was no budget resolution due to divisions between the House and the Senate. Both chambers will start the budget resolution process next week but getting it through the Senate with rules allowing for unlimited amendments will be time consuming. However, having started the budget process will give the Democrats some negotiating strength as they sit down with Republicans. There have been talks behind the scenes that indicate the White House would like to find a bipartisan deal; but it wants the basic blueprint of the programs to remain intact though the dollar amount could be reduced below $1.9T. Read this to say that there is some negotiating room on the size of the proposed $1,400 individual stimulus checks. Washington’s Reaction GameStop and Robinhood When talking to students I often make the point that the political spectrum in the US often looks more like a circle than a line; and the issue of GameStop/Robinhood and other exchanges closing down certain trades has demonstrated this fact. Both liberal and conservatives have called for hearings on the GameStop/Robinhood issue. Making the rounds on Capitol Hill was the story of how AOC tweeted the unfairness of the Robinhood action against small investors, and Senator Ted Cruz Tweeted: “fully agree.” The House and Senate Banking Committees have both announced hearings, and the SEC, as expected with a disrupting market event, has announced they are looking into the issue. Another tidbit making the rounds in DC is that on Friday Robinhood posted a job for a Manager of Federal Affairs. Robinhood has been represented in DC by an array of firms; but with all the attention of the past week, and the promise of hearings, they decided there was a need for their own person on the scene. Likely more smoke than fire at the hearings but definitely an emerging issue in the new Congress.

Biden Era Begins

After an unprecedented inaugural caused by the pandemic newly sworn in President Biden began with a flurry of Executive Orders. The orders were headlined with the US rejoining the WHO and the Paris Climate Accord; but other orders included many parts of the Biden program to attack the coronavirus. Here is a link to a list of Executive Orders compiled by CNN which the President has issued in his first 48 hours as President. Today the Senate approved Lloyd Austin to be the Secretary of Defense. The vote was 93 to 2. Senator Josh Hawley is clearly positioning himself as the leader of the Trump opposition by being one of the two votes against Austin. Janet Yellen was unanimously approved by the Senate Finance Committee and should be approved by the Senate either today or early next week. Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken also seems likely to be confirmed in the next few days. Impeachment is the 900lb gorilla in the room as Pelosi announced that the House will send the formal impeachment legislation over to the Senate on Monday. Under existing rules, the trial would need to begin on Tuesday, but there are several moving pieces that will impact the process. President Biden wants the Senate to move ahead with his nominees, and many believe that to win some bipartisan support the impeachment process needs to be deemed as fair. Hence, there is a growing belief that the two leaders, Schumer and McConnell, will reach some sort of agreement to delay the trial. But at some point, the Republicans are likely to move to dismiss the charges as unconstitutional – impeaching a former President. While this is unlikely to succeed it will be the initial position taken by Senate Republicans. Watch this weekend for what could be an important meeting at the White House between leaders of the new Administration and a bipartisan group of 16 Senators, eight Republicans and eight Democrats, to see if there may be some areas of agreement on a Covid Relief package. The group that is being referred to as the “Sweet 16” could come up with the outline for an initial stimulus bill that could move quickly. There appear to be measures such as vaccine money and another targeted stimulus check that could move outside the process of the Biden $1.9T package that has gotten little Republican support. Another issue that will be the focus of much discussion in the coming days is a set of rules to govern a Senate divided 50/50. Republican Leader McConnell wants a commitment to maintain the filibuster as part of the rules package, but Schumer has been clear he wants the leverage to stop filibusters as Biden legislation moves through Congress. While rules may be arcane it is in many ways the lifeblood of how the Senate works so these discussions are worth watching.

The Last Five and First One-Hundred Days; Busy Weeks Ahead

In the final days of the Trump Administration there is national concern about violence in both DC and around the country as some of the President’s supporters continue to take action to protest the “rigged” election. This fear persists despite the video made by the President calling for calm and opposing violent acts conducted under his name. One area where the President can still act unilaterally is the Constitutional power given the President to grant pardons. There is widespread anticipation that in the last days of his Administration there will be pardons given to allies and family; and potentially to the President himself. On Thursday, the President-elect unveiled a nearly $2T COVID relief package. The proposals ranged from the non-controversial such as money to speed the opening of schools, to the more partisan idea to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The program would also create a $1400 individual stimulus payment, increase the Unemployment Supplemental amount to $400 a week, and give $350B to state and local governments. The package would also put federal resources into a national vaccine program aimed to create community vaccine centers. But to get action there are several key decisions that will need to be made in the early days of the Biden/Harris Administration. The first challenge will be the strategy developed by the new Senate Majority Leader New York Senator Chuck Schumer of how to conduct the impending impeachment trial of Donald Trump while also working to get the Biden Cabinet confirmed. At this point, the exact timing of the impeachment trial has not been determined but the Senate rules state that the trial must begin the day after the Senate receives the formal impeachment indictment from the House. Obviously, Schumer and Pelosi will tightly control that process. The other immediate issue will be constructing the legislative agenda for the first 100 days of the Biden Administration. The top priority will be taking the COVID Relief framework outlined this week and creating a legislative package. While the House Democratic majority is small, the leadership should be able to get the package through. The challenge will be in the Senate where the 50/50 tie raises issues of both bipartisanship and getting agreement from a caucus that ranges from Bernie Sanders the new Chair of the Budget Committee to Joe Manchin who represents the solidly red state of West Virginia. After getting all Democrats on board, Schumer and the White House will have to decide if they can get enough Republican support to stop a filibuster or try the more cumbersome and lengthy Reconciliation process that allow for votes that impact spending but prevents a filibuster and only requires a simple majority. Much to follow in the coming weeks.

Chaotic Week With DC Change Ahead

On a personal note, last Sunday was the 50th anniversary of my taking the oath as a Congressional staffer when I became the legislative assistant for my hometown Congressman while finishing my senior year at American University. In 1971 there were large anti-Vietnam protests in DC and the Capitol was surrounded by armed troops. One day I was driving to work, and my car was surrounded by protesters and troops came to my rescue and escorted me up to Capitol Hill. Disruption and even violence are not new. The lack of preparation on Capitol Hill Wednesday was inexcusable. In my Monday note for Fundstrat, I wrote about the likelihood of trouble with those attending the rally on the National Mall, so I just don’t understand how the Capitol stood basically unprotected. A very troubling day for the USA. Georgia race: It’s hard to believe that the news of two Democratic wins in Georgia was all but overlooked by the invasion of the Capitol; it was an historic election which will change control of the Senate on Jan. 20th when Vice President Harris starts to preside. The 50/50 split will make passage of far-left progress legislation unlikely; the most important advantage of Senate control is setting the agenda. Chuck Schumer rather than Mitch McConnell will be deciding what bills come to the Senate floor. In the past few weeks it was Leader McConnell who blocked a vote on a clean $2000 stimulus bill, now Democrats will be making that decision. There have been 50/50 splits before, and it increases the leverage of each individual Senator in the Majority Party. One Democratic Senator siding with united Republicans can stop a bill, and there are a handful of moderate Democrats. What legislation will move? Everyone I talk to in DC believes that Covid relief will dominate the first 100 days of the Biden Administration. The Congress is likely to consider another round of individual stimulus checks though it may be less than $2,000. The amount is now the focus and the reality that it will pass guides the decision. Money for state and local government will be in the next round of Covid relief, and a higher weekly unemployment supplement is under review. While Covid is top of the agenda immigration is likely to be acted on early in the new Administration. Every Democrat I know believes that a serious shortcoming of the early Obama Administration was not acting on immigration. There are clearly at least 10 Republicans who support DACA and other immigration measures which should allow the issue to move without death by filibuster. Healthcare and the ACA may also be an early issue in the new Administration as a decision by the SCOTUS is likely at some point in the spring. There is a possibility the Court will rule against the ACA but give Congress a window to make needed changes. The Medicare Part D prescription drug programs are also are likely to see action aimed at lowering the price of drugs. The original Part D program passed under President G.W. Bush prohibited the government from using its purchasing power to negotiate drug prices; repealing the limitation is high on the list of ideas that are being discussed. 46th President: President Trump admitting last night that a new Administration will take over on January 20th removes one level of concern about the transition; and no one was surprised when the President announced that he would not attend the ceremony. Hopefully, officials will be better prepared with Capitol security on the big day. House Democrats seem committed to a second impeachment with a vote next week. It’s not clear if the Senate will take any action. Impeachment would require a Senate trial. Time seems to be on the side of the President to leave as scheduled at noon on Jan. 20th.

  • US Policy
Dec 31, 2020

Momentous Week Ahead; January 3, 5 and 6 Are Key Dates

While the calendar may have December 31 as the end of the old year; in Washington 2020 culminates with three big days next week. Sunday, January 3: A little parliamentary lesson: A Congress lasts two years, and then a new Congress begins. The current Congress is the 116th and on Sunday at exactly noon, January 3, by law the new Congress – the 117th – begins. Any bill not passed and signed by the President by noon on Sunday dies and must begin the legislative process all over again. This is why the clock is on Senator McConnell’s side to stop the $2000 payment. It also explains why he wants to override the President’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act no later than Saturday. The President’s veto will stand if not overridden by the current Congress. Tuesday, January 5: Georgia holds its decisive Senate runoff with control of the Senate hanging in the balance. While press reports focus on high Democratic early turnout we saw in November that Republicans turn out on Election Day in big numbers. Incumbent Republican Senators in Iowa, Maine, NC, and SC were all in trouble with weak polling numbers; but all won and helped to hold the Republican’s majority. The Senate lineup before Georgia is 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats, so a sweep by Dems on Tuesday would give control of the Senate to Democrats, with big implications for Biden nominees and legislation. One interesting scenario would be a Democratic sweep on Tuesday and then if President Trump is willing to work with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Charles Schumer, leader of the Senate Democrats, he could get the $2000 stimulus payments approved in the final days of his Administration. A big win on stimulus checks would be a great legacy-building action and an accomplishment to kick off his 2024 campaign. Wednesday, January 6: This is the day set by law for the Congress to make the final count of the Electoral College. Some Republicans have indicated that in a seldom used procedure they will move to block the Electoral College results from several swing states won by President-elect Joseph Biden. The rules state that there can be an objection of each state. An objection must be made by at least one Member of the House and Senate and then each body considers the objection and reports back to a joint session. Since the House is controlled by Democrats there is no chance that an objection would be accepted. Plus, several Republicans have indicated they too will not object and hence it is unlikely the Senate will throw out the results from any state. This vote will be a tough vote for some Republicans where they will need to balance overturning an election certified by their state or show a lack of loyalty to their President. The decision is likely to follow them for the remainder of their political careers.

  • US Policy
Dec 18, 2020

Omnibus Spending & COVID-19 on Table; Shutdown Possible

Congress appears on the verge of approving an Omnibus Spending Bill to fund the US Government (USG) through the end of the current fiscal year that runs until September 30, 2021 and a $900B COVID Relief program. Without some action by midnight there would be a government shutdown. One alternative that is being considered is a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the government for a few days while work is finished on the COVID Relief package. The other alternative is to have the government suffer a short-term shut down over the weekend with passage of a budget and relief bill on Sunday or Monday. A breakthrough could be announced at any time; but the broad outline of the COVID Relief package is legislation that contains the following: an individual $600 stimulus check for each adult and child under age 17, 10 weeks of extended unemployment that would include a $300 weekly supplement from the federal government, a new PPP small business loan program, and money for schools and vaccine distribution. There are other ideas such as funds designated for art and cultural institutions and an airline employee program that are being negotiated. While all the Congressional leaders agree that a deal is near, a last minute complication has been a proposal by Republican Senator Pat Toomey to close down the Fed’s emergency lending program that was created by the CARES Act passed in March. There is concern that the language is too broad and could limit future financial intervention by the Fed if needed to prop up the economy. More narrow language seems like a possible compromise. While Congress writes the final relief provisions there may be a need for a short-term CR in order to avoid a two- or three-day government shut down. Then, the main legislative hurdle is the need for the Senate to obtain unanimous consent to get a bill passed without the usual time for debate. There are a few Republican Senators who oppose the nearly $1T relief package and they could show their opposition by blocking a short-term government funding bill. Both Speaker Pelosi and Leader McConnell have vowed to stay in Washington until a joint government funding and COVID relief deal is done. I expect the package to be complete and passed in the next few days, but there could be a near meaningless government shutdown over the weekend.

  • US Policy
Dec 11, 2020

Washington Mess: No Budget, No Relief, Texas Election

In my many years as a Congressional aide, lobbyist, and strategist I can’t recall a time of such a failure to act by the US Congress when the need for action was so great. The first priority this week was to avoid a government shutdown that was due to occur tonight at midnight without Congressional action. On Wednesday, the House passed a one-week extension until Friday, December 18. And after some unnecessary drama, the Senate passed the one-week extension on Friday afternoon. President Trump is expected to sign it before midnight. The second priority is trying to put together a COVID Relief Bill that would be added the massive Omnibus Spending legislation which funds the US Government until October 1, 2021. The week started with much optimism as a bipartisan, bicameral package was proposed. But the deal appears to have fallen apart with Democrats insisting on money for state and local governments, while Republicans insist on a liability shield for the private sector. There is some talk of weekend negotiations that could lead to the dropping of both the money for state and local governments and the liability shield, but add stimulus checks for individuals. The relief package would likely also include money for PPP small business loans, supplemental unemployment, and funds for vaccine distribution and schools. The chances of a deal coming together are not zero, but they are no greater than 50/50. Overhanging the budget and relief talks is the case filed before the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) by Texas to invalidate the Presidential vote in GA, PA, MI, and WI. President Trump has focused on the case and has asked the Court for permission to intervene in support of Texas. As of noon today, all required papers have been filed with the Court and a decision could come at any time. With the Electoral College process to occur in the 50 states on Monday, a decision is expected by Sunday night. In the past Justice Thomas has insisted that cases between states, that come directly to the SCOTUS, be heard and not dismissed and Justice Alito has joined him. But there will be pressure by the Chief Justice for unanimity and much focus will be on the three Trump appointees whose support the President is counting on.

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