Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that plans to vote on the new bill did not preclude reaching a deal with Mnuchin. In the past several days the two have resumed bipartisan negotiations that collapsed in early August, though without reaching agreement so far.
“This is a very smart bill, we’re very proud of it. And we want people to see what the possibilities are,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference. She said action on the legislation had “no relationship” to her talks with Mnuchin — even though Democratic leaders delayed a vote on the bill that had been planned for Wednesday in order to allow more time for the negotiations to progress.
Those negotiations appeared to be moving forward slowly, if at all. Pelosi and Mnuchin — who held their first face-to-face meeting in weeks on Wednesday — spoke by phone for about 50 minutes Thursday afternoon. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said they would speak again later in the day, but that “distance on key areas remain.”
The two sides also engaged in a round of finger-pointing Thursday that appeared almost to forecast defeat and preemptively assign blame.
At the White House, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed that the administration had offered Pelosi an approximately $1.6 trillion package — much higher than many congressional Republicans would be able to support — but said Pelosi was “not interested.”
“Nancy Pelosi is not being serious. If she becomes serious then we can have a discussion,” McEnany said.
For her part, Pelosi criticized the GOP’s proposals as too stingy, contending that the administration is focused on protecting tax breaks for the wealthy instead of help for families and children in need.
“This isn’t half a loaf, this is the heel of the loaf,” Pelosi said on Bloomberg TV of the White House proposal.
House Democrats’ new bill includes new $1,200 stimulus checks, a renewal of $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits, aid to airlines, small business relief, and money for election security, the postal system, vaccine development and distribution, and more.
There is overlap in what Democrats want and the $1.62 trillion offer Mnuchin made to Pelosi on Wednesday, which included $1,200 checks, $400 weekly unemployment benefits, and $75 billion for coronavirus testing and tracing, among other provisions, according to two people familiar with its contents who spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm it. There’s also $250 billion for state and local governments, but Democrats want more.
Details of the proposal were first reported by Roll Call.
Pelosi said Thursday that significant differences remain, including on state and local aid, and Democrats’ demand for a child tax credit that Pelosi said the administration opposes.
Congress is set to adjourn at the end of this week through the election, and it appeared unlikely that Pelosi and Mnuchin would be able to clinch a deal before then.
Even if they do, support from congressional Republicans is far from assured. There is widespread suspicion of Mnuchin among some congressional Republicans who view him as too quick to capitulate to Pelosi.
Senate Republicans have balked at supporting any bill that costs more than $1 trillion, if that, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) distanced himself from the talks.
“I’d like to see another rescue package. We’ve been trying for months to get there. I wish them well,” McConnell said.
Rep. Kevin Brady (Tex.), the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, expressed concern on Fox Business about numerous provisions under consideration, including the amount of unemployment aid and aid for state and local governments. Brady said some help is necessary for the airline and restaurant industry but it is not clear at what cost.
“The worry is: ‘How much wasteful spending will we have to swallow to do this?’” Brady said. “I do think we need some targeted help. The question is: ‘Is the $500 or $700 billion that’s really needed — is the other $1 trillion on top of it so wasteful that we can’t do that?’ We don’t know that yet.”
Congress has not passed coronavirus relief legislation since the spring, when lawmakers came together on four bipartisan bills totaling around $3 trillion. In the opinion of some Republicans, that was more than enough and there’s no need to do more.
But Mnuchin, along with other leading policy makers including Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, have consistently argued that more stimulus is needed amid signs that the recovery is slowing. Much of the stimulus approved in the spring has expired, unemployment remains high and layoffs are on the rise.
The number of people claiming unemployment rose slightly, to 26.5 million, and Americans’ income dropped in August along with the expiration of emergency federal aid programs. Disney announced 28,000 layoffs earlier this week, and major airline companies have indicated tens of thousands of layoffs are possible in coming days without additional federal help. American Airlines has announced it will move forward furloughing 19,000 workers, citing inaction in Congress.