Negotiations between the White House and the Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives on a second massive round of coronavirus aid have “come a long way,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday.
In a Bloomberg News interview ahead of an afternoon phone call with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Pelosi said the two sides were resolving disagreements over language, setting out a national testing strategy for detecting the coronavirus as well as addressing the impact of the pandemic on communities of color. The two sides are still negotiating language for emergency funding for cash-strapped state and local governments.
Pelosi had set Tuesday as the final day to reach a deal with the Trump administration before the presidential and congressional elections, which are just two weeks away on November 3.
But she downplayed that self-imposed deadline, saying Tuesday morning, “It isn’t that this day was a day that we would have a deal, it was a day that we would have our terms on the table to be able to go to the next step.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell committed Tuesday to bring any Trump-approved legislation that results from such a deal to the Senate floor for a vote.
“If such a deal were to clear the House, obviously, with the presidential signature or promise, we would put it on the floor of the Senate,” McConnell told reporters.
If negotiations between the White House and the Democratic-majority House of Representatives fail, the next opportunity for negotiations on aid will come during a lame-duck session of Congress in November and December.
“Nancy Pelosi isn't serious,” McConnell said Tuesday on the timing of negotiations. “That's because she doesn't want anything to pass, she and [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer have made a calculated decision. It's a political decision that nothing is going to pass until after Election Day because they believe that they have better chances of success on Election Day.”
The president also raised the timing of the deal in relation to the election during a campaign stop Monday in Arizona, saying Pelosi “at this moment, does not want to do anything that’s going to affect the election.”
U.S. lawmakers have repeatedly failed to reach an agreement on a second round of economic aid to millions of Americans affected by the pandemic. In September, Senate Republicans failed to pass a slimmed-down $500 billion aid proposal. The House passed the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act in June and has so far rebuffed the administration’s offer of $1.8 trillion for a new round of aid.
The Senate voted Tuesday on another $500 billion proposal. That bill would provide funding for a new round of unemployment benefits and the popular Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
McConnell said Senate Republicans did not feel there was a need for a second round of the $1,200 stimulus payments many Americans received as part of the CARES Act earlier this year.
“We thought about $500 billion was appropriate at this juncture,” he told reporters. “No one would argue the economy's in good shape, but it's noteworthy that [un]employment is at about 8.4% which is what it was in several years during the Obama first term.”
He said the Republican proposal did provide funding for enhanced unemployment benefits.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the Senate votes this week a stunt.
“Democrats want to get a big bold bill that will meet the American people's needs as soon as we can,” he said. “Nancy Pelosi is fighting to get one now. And as you know we've been met just with intransigence by the Republican Senate. We will try to get one in the lame duck and we will try to get one should we win the presidency and win the senate after that, the sooner the better," Schumer told reporters Tuesday.
President Donald Trump announced an end to negotiations on a new round of aid earlier this month before reversing course and tweeting, “Go big or go home!” His expression of support for a larger topline number closer to House Democrats’ asks for close to $2 trillion has caused discomfort among many Senate Republicans.
The $2 trillion CARES Act, passed by bipartisan agreement in March, was one of the largest aid packages in U.S. history, providing $600 in weekly enhanced unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans. The weekly benefits expired on July 31.
The U.S. economy is showing some signs of recovery from the lockdowns instituted earlier this year to contain the spread of the virus. More than 11.4 million jobs have been recovered, and there are signs of increased hiring in hard-hit industries such as tourism.
New unemployment claims jumped last week to more than 890,000, the highest level since mid-August, although continuing unemployment claims dropped to 10 million.
The U.S. leads the world with just over 220,000 COVID-19 deaths, as well as infections, with more than 8 million cases total, according to Johns Hopkins University.