Coronavirus stimulus discussions yield no deal, but Pelosi reportedly says talks will continue

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 1, 2020.

Erin Scott | Reuters

Another day of coronavirus stimulus talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared to yield no deal Thursday, though the sides will reportedly keep up discussions toward an agreement.

In the absence of a bipartisan plan to boost an economy and health-care system ravaged by the pandemic, House Democrats moved to pass their own $2.2 trillion package Thursday night. Leaving the Capitol, Pelosi told reporters the sides had not reached a deal but would keep talking, according to Politico and CNN.

Asked about the odds of a deal, Pelosi answered, “I don’t know,” Politico reported.

The speaker and Mnuchin spoke by phone for about 50 minutes Thursday afternoon and plan to talk again later in the day, Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said. They aimed to clarify both the amount of money to put into a potential bill and the language of the legislation, “but distance on key areas remain,” he said.

After Pelosi and Mnuchin met in person Wednesday but did not reach a deal on a fifth coronavirus relief package, they said they would continue negotiations toward an agreement.

The House, which had aimed to pass a $2.2 trillion Democratic bill Wednesday night, delayed a vote until at least Thursday to allow more time for Pelosi and Mnuchin to hash out a bipartisan plan that could get through both chambers of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has opposed the Democratic legislation, meaning it likely will not get through the Republican-led chamber.

Pelosi sounded “frustrated” and “fired up” when talking about the state of the discussions during a Democratic whip conference call Thursday morning, a source who was listening told NBC News. The speaker said the GOP does not “share our values” or want to put what she sees as needed money into state and local governments and health care, the source said. 

During the meeting Wednesday, Mnuchin offered a $1.6 trillion proposal — up from the $1.3 trillion the White House had embraced, according to NBC News. It includes $250 billion for state and local government relief, $400 per week in extra unemployment benefits, $150 billion for education, $75 billion for Covid-19 testing and contact tracing, and $60 billion for rental and mortgage assistance, NBC reported. 

Speaking to reporters Thursday before she talked to Mnuchin, Pelosi said she is “hoping” the House will vote on its stimulus bill Thursday. While she acknowledged Democrats and Republicans are “way off” on issues including state and municipal aid, the speaker did not rule out the possibility of an agreement. 

“Hopefully we can find our common ground on this and do so soon,” she said. 

The effort to revive aid discussions follows weeks of pessimism about Congress’ ability to boost the U.S. economy and health-care system before the Nov. 3 election. Lawmakers have not approved new relief funds in months as Democrats and Republicans wrestle over how to structure a package. 

The outbreak continues to spread across the country: the U.S. has seen a seven-day average of nearly 43,000 daily new cases. At the same time, many workers and businesses are floundering as restrictions designed to slow the pandemic remain in place. 

Initial jobless claims dipped to 837,000 last week, a level still higher than anything seen in recent American memory before shutdowns in March. At the same time, American Airlines and United Airlines will start to furlough more than 32,000 workers combined as they seek federal aid. 

Any stimulus deal is expected to include $25 billion to help airlines cover payroll costs. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday that the Trump administration would consider a stand-alone airline bill — though Pelosi has repeatedly rejected anything other than a comprehensive relief package.

Companies such as Disney and Royal Dutch Shell also announced plans to lay off employees this week. 

Democrats and Republicans could have a difficult time bridging broad disagreements over how best to respond to the crisis. On Wednesday, McConnell said the sides are “very far apart.” 

Among the differences, Democrats have pushed for more than $400 billion in state and municipal aid — higher than the $250 billion offered by the White House. They have also sought to reinstate the extra jobless benefit at $600 per week, as opposed to the $400 put forward by the Trump administration. 

Republicans also want liability protections for businesses, which Democrats oppose.

Vulnerable Republicans and Democrats up for reelection in November have agitated for their party leaders to take some kind of concrete action to respond to the crisis. Before her call with Mnuchin on Thursday, Pelosi downplayed the prospect of passing a more targeted plan, as some House Democrats have urged her to do.

“Isn’t something better than nothing? No,” she said. 

Pelosi denied that the current round of talks is the last chance to pass relief before Election Day. She was asked what underpins her optimism about reaching a deal despite the signs that Democrats and Republicans remain far from an accord. 

“Because of the needs of the American people. I just think at some point they’ll have to know that the American people have these needs,” Pelosi said. 

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