WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows both said Tuesday they’re hopeful they can reach a fresh economic stimulus agreement, a new burst of optimism one day after House Democrats unveiled a new bill and stalled talks resumed.
Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol an agreement could come this week, which is supposed to be Congress’s final one in session before recessing through the election. She spoke on the phone for about 50 minutes Tuesday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with whom she negotiated four relief bills in March and April totaling about $3 trillion.
Pelosi and Mnuchin are set to talk again on Wednesday, at which point Mnuchin is expected to come back with a more detailed response, according to two people with knowledge of the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss them.
Congress hasn’t acted to pass any new aid since the spring, and prospects for a bipartisan deal ahead of the election were looking increasingly grim. But on Monday, House Democrats released a new, $2.2 trillion bill – a slimmed-down version of the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act they passed in May – and Pelosi and Mnuchin resumed negotiations that had collapsed in August.
Even though they have reengaged in talks, Democrats are preparing to move forward without a White House deal if necessary. They could vote as soon as Wednesday on their new $2.2 trillion plan, or they could hold off if the talks with Mnuchin pick up speed.
“We’re in a negotiation and hopefully we will come to a bipartisan agreement that will remove all doubt that the legislation will pass and be signed by the president,” Pelosi said Tuesday on MSNBC, when asked when the House would vote on the new bill.
Meadows also expressed a degree of optimism when questioned by reporters the Capitol, where he was spending Tuesday introducing President Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court pick to senators.
“The secretary and I have had a couple of conversations this morning, we also had a conversation with the president, so hopefully we’ll make some progress and find a solution for the American people,” Meadows said.
Many lawmakers are feeling intense pressure to make a new deal, with millions still out of work, cities and states delaying infrastructure projects and laying off workers because of massive revenue shortfalls, and a pending Oct. 1 deadline when airlines are expected to furlough tens of thousands of workers unless a new agreement is struck to extend payroll support for the industry.
“The next 24 to 48 hours are key. This is game time,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., said in an interview Tuesday. “Many of us have made it clear we can’t go home before the election and potentially inauguration without helping people, small businesses, local governments.”
Gottheimer is a leader of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that released a $1.5 trillion economic relief proposal of its own this month that appeared to help create momentum for the new round of talks.
The new House bill would extend payroll support for the airline industry, and includes new small-business money, an additional round of $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals, an extension of expired $600 weekly unemployment benefits, around $500 billion for cities and states, support for schools and coronavirus testing and tracing, and more. There is money in the bill to support election security and the U.S. Postal Service.
Many of the provisions of the original Heroes Act remain in the bill, with a shorter time frame to keep costs down. But a few elements, including tens of billions in hazard pay for essential workers, were jettisoned entirely to slim down the legislation.
A number of the provisions in the bill are supported by the White House, but Mnuchin and Senate Republicans have repeatedly said the $2.2 trillion figure is too high, and they have opposed state and local aid at the level Democrats want. Mnuchin has suggested the White House could support around $1.5 trillion in new spending.
Pelosi has refused so far, at least in public, to support anything under $2.2 trillion. For weeks she resisted even releasing a new bill, instead pointing to the Heroes Act. But she faced growing unrest from moderate House Democrats, some facing tough re-election fights, who wanted to show their constituents they were delivering, or at least trying to.
With the election looming, there are political considerations on all sides. There are a handful of endangered Senate Republicans who would also like to make a new deal – although the Supreme Court nomination fight is now the focus in the Senate.
And, Trump would like a new deal with fresh stimulus checks ahead of the election. That’s something Pelosi has alluded to repeatedly, saying she doesn’t want to just sign off on a bill that sends out checks with Trump’s name on them.
– – –
The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein contributed to this report.