House Democrats and the Trump administration remained far apart Monday in economic relief negotiations, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there were signs of progress in the ongoing talks.
“We have finally in the last 24 hours . . . come to a place where they are willing to address the crisis, the coronavirus, to crush the virus,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday evening in an appearance on MSNBC. She said the Trump administration had agreed to language the Democrats demanded relating to addressing racial disparities in the virus’s impact.
She said she had tried to create an environment for all the negotiators on Tuesday to “exchange all our differences of opinion . . . and numbers and paper so we can see, let’s make a judgment. We may not like this, we may not like that, but let’s see on balance if we can go forward.”
Her chief interlocutor from the Trump administration is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is traveling in the Middle East. He and Pelosi spoke for roughly and hour on Monday and are expected to talk again.
President Donald Trump seemed to downplay chances for an outcome, telling reporters that “Nancy Pelosi, at this moment, does not want to do anything that’s going to affect the election. And I think it will affect the election negatively for her. So we’ll see what happens.”
But Pelosi insisted in a call with Democratic colleagues that she did want to pass legislation before the election, saying she didn’t want to carry “the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency,” according to a person on the call who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss it. The elephant comment was first reported by Politico.
Pelosi and Mnuchin have spent more than a week trying to negotiate a bill that would spend between $1.8 trillion and $2.2 trillion to help both the economic and health responses to the coronavirus. The two “continued to narrow their differences” and “the speaker continues to hope that, by the end of the day Tuesday, we will have clarity on whether we will be able to pass a bill before the election,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said on Twitter.
Pelosi set the Tuesday deadline in an appearance on a Sunday talk show, indicating that if no agreement were reached by Tuesday night it would not be possible to get legislation passed before the election two weeks from now. It was unclear precisely what Hammill meant by “clarity” and he declined to elaborate.
Hammill said staff would be working around the clock, but the divisions appeared significant.
The stock market slid Monday as hopes faded for a deal. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 411 points, or 1.4%.
Before speaking with Mnuchin, Pelosi had joined a conference call with House Democrats where she and senior Democrats detailed multiple areas where the two sides remain at odds, including liability protections sought by the administration for businesses. “There isn’t a single Democrat who could vote for a bill with those provisions,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said on the call, according to several people listening in, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe it.
Pelosi said there still was not agreement for funding levels for state and local governments, a key Democratic demand. And the two sides continued to wrangle over language for spending on health care and testing provisions, with Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., saying Democrats could not sign off on what would amount to a “slush fund” for the administration.
The White House and Democrats remain at odds on a number of other issues, including small business funding and a variety of other issues.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.—who has rejected spending the enormous sums Pelosi and Mnuchin are discussing—announced the Senate will be voting Tuesday and Wednesday on much more targeted bills. On Tuesday the Senate will take up a bill to replenish the small-business Paycheck Protection Program, and on Wednesday McConnell will try to advance an approximately $500 billion bill that includes money for schools, vaccines, some new unemployment insurance and more.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that “it’d be hard” to find much support among Senate Republicans to mobilize behind the bill currently being negotiated between the White House and Pelosi.
Senate Democrats blocked the legislation Republicans will offer on Tuesday when it was first offered last month, saying it’s insufficient because it leaves out priorities including $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals that are part of the package under discussion by Pelosi and Mnuchin. It appears destined to meet the same fate this week.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the GOP effort Monday as “emaciated” and said: “the Republican proposal was unacceptable a month ago. It remains unacceptable.” He said it was designed only to give the Republicans political cover.
McConnell, however, accused Democrats of taking an “all-or-nothing approach,” and said, “The speaker’s Marie Antoinette act needs to end.”
Congress has not passed any new economic or health care relief since an unprecedented $3 trillion burst of spending when the epidemic started in the spring. Many of those programs have since run their course, the economy is weakening and the number of coronavirus cases is rising.
A number of House Democrats have been pressuring Pelosi to make a deal now, before the election—a viewpoint expressed on Monday’s call by Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., according to people on the call.
But with Trump making a series of erratic pronouncements, including ending the talks altogether only to restart them and saying he wanted to spend even more than the Democrats, Pelosi has been holding out for more.
It’s not clear that any deal struck by Mnuchin and Pelosi could even pass the Senate. McConnell said over the weekend that if Mnuchin and Pelosi come to an agreement, “the Senate would of course consider it.” Trump told reporters Monday that if a deal is reached “Republicans will come along,” declining to say if he’d spoken with McConnell.
The last coronavirus relief package, the $1.8 trillion bipartisan CARES Act, passed in March by an overwhelming margin as the economy went into lockdown amid fear and uncertainty about the virus.
For months, Pelosi has been promising a COVID relief package of more than $2 trillion stuffed with Obama-era stimulus ideas. Even though the Senate and White House are both in GOP hands—and will be at least into January—she has sharply rebuffed anyone who suggests that Democrats should take a smaller deal now rather than risk going home empty-handed until next year.
“If Congress doesn’t act the next administration is going to inherit a real mess,” said Harvard economist Jason Furman, a former top Obama adviser. “Economic problems tend to feed on themselves.” He is in the Democratic camp that prefers imperfect stimulus now rather than a larger package in four months or so.