WASHINGTON — House Democrats pushed through a $2.2 trillion stimulus plan Thursday that would provide aid to families, schools, restaurants, businesses and airline workers, advancing a wish list with little chance of becoming law as negotiations with the Trump administration failed to yield a bipartisan agreement.
Even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted there was still room for the talks to produce a deal, the vote reflected the continued failure of Congress and the White House to come together on another pandemic relief package and the dwindling chances that they could do so before lawmakers scatter to campaign for reelection.
The dysfunction has left Americans without aid payments or enhanced unemployment benefits they had relied on to weather the pandemic, and allowed help for struggling businesses to lapse at a critical time in a shaky recovery.
But the measure passed by a slim margin, 214-207, as Republicans panned the latest relief bill as too large and at least 18 moderate Democrats from conservative-leaning districts objected to the lack of Republican support and argued that a vote should have waited until a bipartisan agreement was struck with the administration.
“It’s important for people to see that we completely identify with the concerns that they have and how we have allocated the resources necessary to get the job done,” Pelosi said.
The bill shaved $1.2 trillion from the original $3.4 trillion stimulus bill that Democrats muscled through the House in May, reflecting mounting anxiety over the impasse and bipartisan concerns over the measure’s scope.
Pelosi spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the lead White House negotiator, for about 50 minutes Thursday, and told reporters that evening that she was reviewing documents and language sent from the Treasury Department.
But even as their private talks continued, there was little evidence of a deal coming together. Pelosi said that “we’re going back-and-forth with our paper and conversation” but ruled out the possibility of reaching an agreement by the end of the day. House Republicans and White House officials said Pelosi was unwilling to compromise and had put forward a measure that remained too expensive and stuffed with unrelated items.
The American people “need us to legislate for them, not posture,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, declared. At the White House, Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary, blamed the speaker for looming layoffs in the airline industry.
“Nancy Pelosi is not being serious” when it comes to the negotiations, she said.
The acrimonious impasse persisted even as several industries, notably airlines, were running into severe financial constraints as the virus showed no sign of abating and people avoided traveling. Without the promise of congressional aid, United Airlines and American Airlines began furloughs of 30,000 workers Thursday. The Labor Department reported Thursday that 787,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits for the first time last week, figures — unadjusted for seasonal variations — that are about four times the weekly tally of claims from before the pandemic.
In a 90-minute meeting Wednesday in Pelosi’s office, Mnuchin put forward a $1.6 trillion offer, which Pelosi rejected as inadequate.
“We’re hopeful that we can reach an agreement because the needs of the American people are great,” Pelosi said. “But there has to be a recognition that it takes money to do that, and it takes the right language to make sure it’s done right.”
The measure House Democrats pushed through contained many of the elements of their original $3.4 trillion stimulus plan, although lawmakers curtailed how long some provisions would last. In an effort to scale back the cost, lawmakers also halved their original proposal of nearly $1 trillion for state, local and tribal governments.
Democrats maintained a provision that would revive a lapsed $600-a-week enhanced federal unemployment benefit and another that would send an additional round of $1,200 stimulus checks to Americans. (Mnuchin said Wednesday that if an agreement were struck, it would likely include another round of stimulus checks.)
They also included $225 billion for schools and $57 billion for child care, an extension of an expiring program intended to prevent the layoffs of airline workers through March 31, and the creation of a $120 billion program to bolster restaurants struggling to survive.
Pelosi insisted that approval of the Democratic plan would not signal the end of negotiations, telling reporters that “it just says” that “this is how we came down” from the package approved in May.
On the House floor, Pelosi urged lawmakers not to “take the path of least resistance and just do whatever they put forth.”
But some moderates balked at a bill that failed to gain any Republican support, arguing that voting on a partisan measure was not a substantial improvement amid the impasse.
“We are closer than we have been in months, but the only thing that will deliver the help my constituents need is a bill that will actually become law,” Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said in a statement. She was among a number of moderate Democrats personally lobbying Pelosi to keep House lawmakers in Washington until a bipartisan agreement had been reached, according to a person familiar with the effort.
Mnuchin’s offer would revive the lapsed federal unemployment benefits at $400 a week and provide $75 billion for testing and tracing, according to one person briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of the proposal. The proposal also included $150 billion for schools and $250 billion for states and municipalities, details that were reported earlier by Roll Call.Pelosi, who declared on Bloomberg TV that “what they are offering is the heel of the loaf,” also said Republicans were unwilling to include a refundable child tax credit.
On Wednesday evening, Mnuchin said the talks had been “productive,” adding that a deal would include direct payments to Americans that would be similar in size to the previous round of payments. But he and other administration officials warned that the Democratic offer in its current form was unacceptable.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and the majority leader, who has been largely absent from the talks, did not appear optimistic about the prospects for a deal.
“I’d like to see another rescue package — we’ve been trying for months to get there,” McConnell said. “I wish them well.”