House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made further progress on a coronavirus stimulus package Wednesday and will speak again Thursday, according to a Pelosi aide.
“Today’s conversation brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted after the two negotiators held a 48 minute call Wednesday. “With the exchange of legislative language, we are better prepared to reach compromise on several priorities.”
Pelosi said earlier that a deal may not come together in time to pass both chambers before the Nov. 3 election. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Wednesday on Fox Business the administration is aiming for an agreement within the next 48 hours.
While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has resisted a bill of the size under negotiation, he “might not mind doing it after the election,” Pelosi said on SiriusXM’s The Joe Madison Show. White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that if the vote on a compromise bill had to wait until post-election, announcing a deal beforehand would still be “very helpful to the economy and markets.”
Even so, Senate Republicans continued to demonstrate opposition and raise doubts about whether stimulus would be any easier after Nov. 3. Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said, “If we’re going to do it this year, I think it’s now or never.”
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told reporters, “It’s pretty hard to predict because I think that what happens in the presidential election will determine that more than anything we know right now.”
After meeting with GOP senators, Meadows said that “I don’t think our chances get better after election.” He also said on Fox News that President Donald Trump was “willing to lean into this” with regard to seeking Senate passage.
“There will be a bill. The question is: is it in time to pay the November rent -- my goal -- or will it be shortly after,” Pelosi said Wednesday on MSNBC. “I want people to know that help is on its way. It will be bigger. It will be better. And it will be retroactive.”Video
Stocks have risen and fallen with headlines on prospects for a deal. The S&P 500 Index closed down 0.2 per cent Wednesday.
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The two sides are now at about US$1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief, Meadows said. Pelosi wants US$2.2 trillion, with many Senate Republicans opposing either total. GOP members tried to advance with a US$500 billion scaled-down package in the Senate Wednesday, but it was blocked, just as happened with a similar effort last month.
GOP vote counters in the Senate won’t have the 13 Republican votes needed to pass a stimulus package as large as Pelosi is seeking, according to John Thune, the party’s No. 2 leader in the Senate.
The Trump administration is proceeding nonetheless.
“We’re working with Speaker Pelosi right now trying to get her to be reasonable,” Meadows said on his way into a closed GOP meeting. He later complained on Fox News that it’s the administration that’s “advancing this negotiation further and further to Nancy Pelosi’s side of the ledger.” The speaker has made “small” concessions, he said.
McConnell said Tuesday his chamber would take up a comprehensive coronavirus stimulus package “at some point” if Pelosi and Mnuchin are able to resolve the final areas of disagreement and get a bill through the House. But he didn’t say whether he would support such a deal, or encourage GOP members to back it.
The Senate majority leader is focused instead on speeding confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, with a potential vote expected early next week.
Meadows said Wednesday after meeting with GOP senators that it’s “obvious” there are senators “concerned about the amount of money we are spending,” he told reporters. He later noted that the language of the deal under negotiation is another challenge.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas said it’s not just the top-line number that has some caucus members wary. “Part of the message from Senate Republicans is: we need to have a discussion about the substance” of policy measures, he said. Republican senators’ concerns include lack of language to prevent government funding for abortions.
Progress was made in recent days over a national coronavirus testing and tracing plan. Pelosi also said, in a Bloomberg TV interview Tuesday, she planned to bring a counter-offer to Mnuchin on a Republican push to provide businesses with liability protection against virus-related lawsuits.
Meadows said on Fox Business Wednesday morning that the “biggest issue remains state and local assistance.” While the administration estimates that those authorities have lost US$250 billion to US$275 billion in revenue thanks to the coronavirus crisis, Pelosi is seeking aid of “about twice that number,” or closer to US$500 billion, he said.
Meadows suggested a compromise could be found, however. “If we can add additional moneys in terms of transportation and onshoring I think there’s a deal to be made,” he said, referring to the White House’s desire for incentives to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.
--With assistance from Jordan Fabian, Laura Litvan, Josh Wingrove and Mario Parker.