with Brent D. Griffiths

A bipartisan group of senators are trying to forge a breakthrough on emergency spending that would insulate the economy against a brutal winter of spiking coronavirus infections and new shutdowns. But time is short and the odds are long.

“The effort is an uphill battle given the entrenched positions of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP conference and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer,” Politico’s Burgess Everett writes. “So whatever this collection of senators can achieve is likely to be modest, if they can accomplish anything at all.”

At least rhetorically, congressional leaders of both parties agree on the need to act. McConnell declared Monday there is “no reason, none, why we should not deliver another major pandemic relief package.” Schumer, following him on the Senate floor, said “both sides must give.”

That’s roughly where the consensus stops. McConnell is offering no indication he will budge off of the $500 billion price tag he and many in his ranks prefer. Nor have Schumer and Pelosi signaled they will accept less than the more than $2 trillion package they have sought since May.

Major substantive sticking points continue to divide the parties. 

Republicans want the package to include liability protections for businesses that Democrats say are anathema; Democrats are insisting on major aid to state and local governments that Republicans oppose.

The bipartisan group nevertheless is trying to split the differences. They consulted via phone over the Thanksgiving recess and aim to produce a proposal this week, per Everett. Those involved include “Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.),” he reports. “Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin has also been involved in some discussion.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) is skeptical, per Politico's Jake Sherman: 

If the negotiators somehow thread the needle and reach an agreement they can sell to their respective leaders, lawmakers could add it to a government funding package that must pass by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown

Chris Krueger, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group, writes he expects that bill will include only an extension of unemployment benefits and a pause in student loan payments set to expire at the end of the year. He predicts a larger deal would hew to Republicans' preferred size of $500 billion and include their liability shield, along with aid to schools and small businesses, money for testing and tracing, and enhanced unemployment benefits. 

The effort to stabilize the stalling recovery is also suffering from a White House leadership void. 

President Trump has apparently checked out of attempting to coordinate a federal response to the pandemic, declining to attend any meetings of his coronavirus task force for the last five months.

The incoming Biden administration for now is deferring to Democratic leaders on the Hill. Earlier this month, President-elect Joe Biden’s team signaled he supported congressional Democrats cutting a smaller relief deal now. Biden advisors were “pushing for Democratic leaders in Congress to reach a quick stimulus deal with Senate Republicans, even if it falls short of the larger package Democrats have been seeking, according to people familiar with the discussions,” the New York Times’s Jim Tankersley and Emily Cochrane reported on Nov. 22.

Many Biden aides “have become convinced that deteriorating economic conditions from the renewed surge in Covid-19 infections and the looming threat of millions of Americans losing jobless benefits in December amid a wave of evictions and foreclosures require more urgent action before year’s end,” according to the report.

The next day, however, the Biden team pushed back, with transition spokesman Andrew Bates calling the report “incorrect,” adding Biden “fully supports the Speaker and Leader in their negotiations.”

There is little debate among economists over the need for more relief as soon as possible.

The year-end expiration of unemployment benefits, student borrower relief, and protections against evictions highlight the stakes for millions of Americans. And the program that Congress approved to provide unemployment insurance to gig workers and the previously self-employed has consistently underpaid them in most states, a Government Accountability Office study released Monday found.

Two former top economists from the Trump and Obama administrations underlined the urgency of congressional action.

“The key point, to put some pressure on everybody, is that it's about to get a lot worse,” Kevin Hassett, the former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under Trump, said on CNN on Monday. “It's absolutely important that Congress pass probably a bridge that gets us to March, so that a new administration, potentially, could then do a longer-term stimulus bill. But to do nothing between now and March is really economic misconduct.”

Appearing alongside him, Austan Goolsbee, who held the same post under Obama, called the situation “a mess. If we're not going to address this, the economy is going to suffer. The virus is raging out of control, and the virus is the boss.”

Look for Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell to convey a similar message, in gentler language, when he testifies with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin before the Senate Banking Committee today starting at 10 a.m. 

Market movers

Wall Street closes a monster month.

Stocks slid but not enough to wipe out major gains: “The Dow Jones industrial average gave up nearly 270 points, or 0.9 percent, by market close, but nonetheless bagged its best monthly performance since 1987. The S&P 500 slipped 16 points, nearly 0.5 percent, to close up more than 11 percent for the month, its best November since 1928. The tech-heavy Nasdaq gave up just a few points, slipping 0.06 percent,” Hamza Shaban and Taylor Telford reports.

“Markets have been on the upswing since news outlets declared Biden the winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election, creating political clarity even as Trump pressed baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and refused to concede. Then came several announcements indicating the effectiveness of multiple coronavirus vaccine candidates. The recent formal launch of the White House transition lifted Wall Street’s optimism further, notching double-digit growth and cementing November’s broad-based rally as one of the best performances in more than 90 years.”

Bitcoin jumps to record high: “Nearly three years after it went on a hair-bending rise and hit a peak of $19,783, the price of a single Bitcoin rose above that for the first time on Monday, according to the data and news provider CoinDesk. The cryptocurrency has soared since March, after sinking below $4,000 at the outset of the pandemic,” the New York Times's Nathaniel Popper reports.

“While those questions remain, Bitcoin is now being fueled by a less speculative fever. Buyers — led by American investors, including companies and other traditional investors — are treating Bitcoin as an alternative asset, somewhat like gold, according to an analysis from the data firm Chainalysis.”

The Fed says a key bank lending rate will be phased out: “An interest rate that banks around the world use as a benchmark for short-term borrowing will be phased out and eventually replaced by June 2023 … The Fed was joined by regulators in the U.K. in announcing the plans for the London Interbank Offered Rate, commonly referred to as Libor,” CNBC's Jeff Cox reports.

“In addition to helping escalate the crisis through higher rates that made it harder for firms to survive, Libor was at the middle of another scandal in 2012. Several banks, including some of the largest in the world, were found to have been manipulating Libor rates for profit."

The transition

Neera Tanden emerges as lightening rod for GOP.

Biden's pick to lead OMB generates the most pushback so far: “Tanden, 50, has regularly clashed with the GOP in a manner that Republicans say will complicate her Senate confirmation process. Several GOP senators said that she could run into trouble during confirmation hearings, warning that her ‘partisan’ background could make it hard for her to win Republican support,” Jeff Stein, Annie Linskey and Seung Min Kim report.

“The two Senate Republicans poised to lead committees that would hold Tanden’s confirmation hearings both declined to commit to doing so. One of them — Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is in line to chair the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — also said he hopes that Biden will decide not to formally nominate Tanden.”

Democrats have rallied around her:

Key quotes so far:

  • From a former OMB director himself: “The concern I have is both judgment, based on the tweets that I’ve been shown, just in the last 24 hours … and it’s the partisan nature,” Portman said. “Of all the jobs, that’s one where I think you would need to be careful not to have someone who’s overtly partisan.”
  • A member of the Senate GOP leadership: “I’m not disqualifying anybody, but I do think it gets a lot harder obviously if they send someone from their progressive left that [is] kind of out of the mainstream," Senate Majority Whip John Thune (S.D.) said.
  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), via Seung Min Kim: “I think, in light of her combative and insulting comments about many members of the Senate, mainly on our side of the aisle, that it creates certainly a problematic path.” He also called her ”Biden's worst nominee so far" and “radioactive.” 
  • Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), via the NYT's Maggie Haberman: "OMB seems to attract ideological folks, but she’s not just a liberal ideologue, she’s a partisan activist who’s gone after senators of the majority party. She seems to have chosen a path that doesn’t lead to a Senate confirmed office.”
  • A centrist Democrat: I “absolutely support her,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) told reporters. 

One potential silver lining for Biden's team? The rest of his picks are receiving praise.

Former Fed Chair Janet Yellen leads the way: “Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said he didn’t see any reason he would oppose Yellen,” my colleagues write. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the outgoing chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, said he “believe she would get a favorable view," though he cautioned that he wanted to review her tax returns.

Biden's picks also took to Twitter — in Yellen's case, for the first time — to speak for themselves.

From Tanden: 

From Yellen:

From Cecilia Rouse, Biden's choice to lead the Council of Economic Advisers:

Money on the Hill

McConnell tees up vote on Christopher Waller's nomination.

Meanwhile, Judy Shelton's Fed nomination remains uncertain: “McConnell’s action on Waller’s nomination Monday could clear the way for his confirmation later this week. He took no steps to try again to advance Shelton, a former economic adviser to President Donald Trump who’s confirmation was blocked before the Thanksgiving break,” Bloomberg News's Laura Litvan reports.

“That leaves McConnell a narrowing window of time for action on Shelton, given that Republicans will lose a vote if Arizona Democratic Senator-elect Mark Kelly is sworn as expected on Wednesday. With three Republicans opposing Shelton, a vote by Kelly with his party would keep Shelton off the Fed.”

Coronavirus fallout

Scott Atlas resigned on Nov. 30 as President Trump’s coronavirus adviser after months of feuding with administration health officials. (Reuters)
From the U.S.:
  • Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser: “Atlas, Trump’s pandemic adviser who embraced a controversial strategy of urging Americans to return to work and school with little restriction, and spent months feuding with the White House coronavirus task force’s other doctors, resigned on Monday, according to a letter he posted to his Twitter account,” Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.
  • Hospitalizations top 96,000 for the first time: “Counts of new coronavirus infections and fatalities have been down in the past few days, a common occurrence over holidays and weekends due to delays in testing and reporting. But the number of patients seeking inpatient treatment tells a different story: Hospitalizations rose by more than 12 percent over the past week,” Antonia Farzan and Jacqueline Dupree report.
  • Two promising vaccines are smashing records: “ Approximately 40 million doses of two remarkably effective vaccines could be available by year’s end, enough for 20 million people to receive full protection. Manufacturing will continue to ramp up through early next year, and other vaccines are expected to follow to steadily increase the supply available each month,” Carolyn Y. Johnson reports.
  • Study finds some Americans may have contracted covid much earlier than expected: “An analysis of antibodies found in blood donated to the Red Cross suggests that some Americans contracted the coronavirus as early as mid-December of last year, before the first cases were officially reported in China,” Antonia Farzan reports.
  • Lawmakers request GAO study of airline travel: “Reps. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the [House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure], and Rick Larsen (Wash.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said the work is needed to better understand how the coronavirus can spread through air travel and what strategies can be put in place to control that spread,” Lori Aratani reports.
From the corporate front:
  • Cyber Monday was set to be the biggest online shopping day in U.S. history: “The day was set to garner up to $12.7 billion in online sales, according to industry estimates, surpassing Black Friday’s digital numbers as U.S. retailers enter the last lap of an extended holiday selling season,”  Reuters's Aishwarya Venugopal reports.
  • JCPenney exits bankruptcy to grim outlook: “The brand's most recent profitable year was 2010, and net losses have since reached roughly $5 billion … Since the summer of 2011, JCPenney has reported net profits in only five quarters — all of them during the holiday shopping season — and has been unable to make money without that boost in sales. So this is a particularly bad time of year to be hit with these headwinds,” CNN Business's Chris Isidore reports.
  • JPMorgan traders set for up to 20 percent bonus jump: “Such a bump will come as a disappointment for those hoping payouts would rise in line with the 48 percent surge in revenue generated by JPMorgan’s markets businesses so far in what was some workers’ busiest and most stressful year ever,” Bloomberg News's Michelle F Davis and Sridhar Natarajan report.

Campaign 2020

Trump has raised more than $150 million on his false election claims.

The widely debunked fraud claims are bringing in record donations: “The influx of political donations is one reason Trump and some allies are inclined to continue a legal onslaught and public affairs blitz focused on baseless claims of election fraud, even as their attempts have repeatedly failed in court and as key states continue to certify wins for Biden,” Josh Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report.

“Much of the money raised since the election is likely to go into an account for the president to use on political activities after he leaves office, while some of the contributions will go toward what’s left of the legal fight.”

Some Wall Street Democrats are sitting out the Georgia runoffs: “Employees of securities and investment firms poured about $77 million into Biden’s campaign and the super-PACs supporting him, more than quadruple what they steered toward Trump. But the pair of Democrats facing runoff elections in Georgia against Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on Jan. 5 are unlikely to see such lopsided support -- even with control of the chamber at stake,” Bloomberg News's Bill Allison and Sonali Basak reports.

“For Wall Streeters, keeping the Senate in Republican hands means thwarting tax hikes for corporations and capital gains, as well as other policies that don’t align with their financial interests.”

Pocket change

DoorDash and Airbnb lead a parade of unicorns.

The year ends with a rush of IPOs: “DoorDash disclosed in its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Monday that it was looking to price its IPO between $75 and $85 a share and that it plans to have about 317.7 million shares outstanding,” CNN Business's Paul R. La Monica reports.

“Airbnb will also be closely watched for signs of how the hospitality sector recovers after the Covid-19 pandemic crushed demand for travel. The company was valued at $18 billion earlier this year — still massive, but a sharp pullback from the $31 billion it commanded before coronavirus … Nonetheless, IPOs (and tech IPOs in particular) are back in a big way. Software firms Snowflake, JFrog, Sumo Logic and Unity have already enjoyed stellar debuts this year.”

GM will no longer take a stake in Nikola: “Under the revised deal, GM still intends to provide Nikola with fuel-cell technology but it has nixed plans to take an 11 percent stake in the Phoenix-based startup in exchange for supplying engineering work and other services,” the WSJ's Ben Foldy and Mike Colias report.

“The Detroit auto maker has also scrapped plans to build an electric pickup truck called the Badger for Nikola, a key part of an earlier agreement outlined in September. That deal got delayed after a negative short seller’s report raised questions about the readiness of some aspects of Nikola’s business, allegations the company said were false and misleading.”

OPEC postpones talks as disagreements surface: “OPEC and allies led by Russia postponed talks on oil output policy for 2021 to Thursday … as key players still disagreed on how much oil they should pump amid weak demand due to the pandemic,” Reuters's Rania El Gamal, Ahmad Ghaddar and Olesya Astakhova report.

“The group had been due to ease existing production cuts by 2 million barrels per day from January. But with demand still under pressure amid the pandemic, OPEC+ has been considering extending existing cuts of 7.7 million bpd, about percent of global demand, into the first months of 2021, a position backed by Saudi Arabia."

Daybook

Today:

  • Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testify before the Senate Banking Committee for the required quarterly Cares Act update
  • The Post hosts an event on inclusive capitalism, featuring Association of Flight Attendants International President Sara Nelson, author Andre Perry and Noble laureate Paul Romer
  • SalesForce.com is among the notable companies reporting its earnings, per Kiplinger 

Wednesday:

Thursday:

  • The Labor Department reports the latest weekly jobless claims
  • Kroger, Dollar General, Ulta Beauty, Smith & Wesson, Lands End and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store are among the notable companies reporting their earnings

Friday:

  • The Labor Department releases the November jobs report
  • AT&T chief executive John Stankey speaks at a Post event about the future of broadband access

The funnies

Bull session