Speaker Nancy Pelosi is holding out one more day for an eleventh-hour agreement with Republicans on a coronavirus relief package, hoping to clinch a longshot deal as talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin drag on this week.
After a 50-minute conversation on Tuesday, Pelosi and Mnuchin made plans to speak again Wednesday on their effort to deliver trillions of dollars in relief to struggling Americans just ahead of the November election.
“I’m hopeful,” Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol after her conversation with Mnuchin.
The California Democrat will huddle with her leadership team Tuesday evening. The full Democratic Caucus will be briefed on the negotiations Wednesday morning, with centrist Democrats desperate for a deal that they can tout on the campaign trail in the final weeks before the election. Democrats unveiled their latest offer, a $2.2 trillion bill, on Monday night.
Senior Democrats described Pelosi’s conversation with Mnuchin as positive, noting that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — who has thrown up roadblocks to Democratic proposals in recent months — was not on the call. Those Democrats are expecting an offer from Mnuchin in the next 24 hours, they said.
Despite not being on the call with Pelosi, Meadows also expressed hope about the chances for a deal.
“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,” he told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday.
The Republican counteroffer is expected to be roughly $1.5 trillion, which is more than Republicans had previously been willing to spend, but still nearly $1 trillion apart from Democrats. Even if the talks again fall apart, House Democrats are likely to bring their $2.2 trillion bill up for a vote this week before members depart for the October recess.
Much of Capitol Hill remains skeptical that an agreement — which has failed to emerge over months of talks between the two sides — can materialize in the final days before the House leaves for recess for nearly a month.
“Our conversation was a positive one. We’ll get back together tomorrow to see how we can find common ground on how we, again, help state and local government play the role it does,” Pelosi said of her call with Mnuchin on MSNBC on Tuesday.
Leaders of both parties have tried and failed to reach a new deal on coronavirus aid since early August. But talks have been at a bitter stalemate for weeks, with Pelosi and Mnuchin barely speaking for most of September, let alone trading offers.
The two are now making one final attempt to restart talks, though both chambers have just a handful of days in session left before the recess and the Senate is absorbed with a Supreme Court confirmation battle. It also remains unclear how Democrats and Republicans would resolve some of the biggest sticking points in recent months.
Democrats, for example, have demanded aid for state and local governments, which have seen revenues plummet during the pandemic. Republicans have dismissed it as a nonstarter.
The bill Pelosi introduced Monday is a pared down version of the massive $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May. That bill was opposed by Republicans, who balked at the cost and instead called for a “pause” in coronavirus talks for much of the summer.
The latest House version includes $436 billion in aid for state and local governments, $75 billion to bolster coronavirus testing and contact tracing nationwide, restores expired federal unemployment benefits and provides another round of stimulus payments for most Americans. The bill also provides additional relief for airlines, restaurants and small businesses that wasn’t included in the Heroes legislation.
Pelosi’s decision to introduce a smaller coronavirus relief package comes after weeks of resistance, despite centrist Democrats and some senior lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, publicly suggesting the idea.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had previously dismissed the suggestion, saying it only weakened Democrats’ negotiating hand in talks with Republicans. Republican leaders, meanwhile, have insisted they won’t go above a relief package that costs around $1.5 trillion, keeping the two parties far apart in the talks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has cast doubt on Congress’ chances of approving any relief package ahead of the election. McConnell is instead focused on securing Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the high court before the election.
But some centrist House Democrats believed that another, narrower bill could remind voters back home that their side of the Capitol at least made an attempt to deliver more relief, even if the measure doesn’t completely restart talks with Republicans.
“Passing a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package should be our number one priority in the coming days,” a group of moderate Democrats wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Hoyer this week.
Jake Sherman contributed to this report.