Coronavirus relief deal elusive as Pelosi says Democrats await agreement from the administration

Source: By Erica Werner, Washington Post • Posted: Sunday, October 4, 2020

Deal depends on whether administration recognizes the need to do what it takes to ‘crush the virus,’ House speaker says

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference, Thursday on Capitol Hill. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference, Thursday on Capitol Hill. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Sunday there’s no deal yet on a new coronavirus relief package as Democrats wait to see whether the Trump administration will agree to terms.

Pelosi spoke a day after President Trump, hospitalized with covid-19, tweeted his support for more stimulus legislation, writing, “WORK TOGETHER AND GET IT DONE.”

Pelosi was asked on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” if the president’s comment suggested that a deal was in hand or close.

“No, it means that we want to see that they will agree on what we need to do to crush the virus so that we can open the economy and open our schools safely,” Pelosi said.

She did not elaborate, but had said Friday that agreeing on language on how to spend new testing and tracing money remained a sticking point. Democrats have pushed for months for a national testing strategy that the administration never produced.

Pelosi also suggested Friday that Trump’s positive diagnosis could change the dynamic and help speed an agreement in the new round of economic relief talks that restarted about a week ago between her and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Negotiations continued over the weekend, but there was little sign a breakthrough would be imminent. Pelosi asked airlines on Friday to hold off on impending furloughs of tens of thousands of workers pending a deal. United and American, the major carriers that have threatened furloughs, have said they can reverse them if there is a deal to extend payroll support for the industry that just expired, but Congress must act fast.

“What I said to the airline executives in a public statement is: Don’t fire people; you know that relief is on the way and it will be retroactive, so let’s keep them employed,” Pelosi said Sunday.

As to whether a deal could come together in the coming week, Pelosi said: “It just depends on if they understand what we have to do to crush the virus. You can’t just say we need to do something but we’re going to let the virus run free. Now it’s even run free in the White House.”

Mnuchin’s office had no comment on Pelosi’s remarks.

Pelosi herself was tested for the novel coronavirus on Friday and tested negative. She said on Sunday that she would continue to get tested regularly, a step she had not previously committed to publicly.

House members left Washington on Friday for what was supposed to be a recess through the election, but if a deal does emerge, they could be called back to vote on it. Moderate House Democrats in tough races are pushing hardest for a deal, and helped prod Pelosi to re-engage in talks with Mnuchin, which had broken down in early August.

Congress has not enacted any new relief since the four packages passed in March and April totaling about $3 trillion.

The House passed a $3.4 trillion bill called the Heroes Act in May, but Senate Republicans and the White House dismissed it as overly costly, objecting to nearly $1 trillion for state and local governments.

Pelosi subsequently scaled back the bill to $2.2 trillion, largely by shortening the time frame of the initiatives, reducing the state and local aid portion to $436 billion. Republicans still say it’s too high, but the House passed the $2.2 trillion version late Thursday over united GOP opposition.

Mnuchin’s offer to Pelosi in the new round of talks was about $1.6 billion. The two sides agree on another round of $1,200 stimulus checks but have remained apart on other issues, including tax credits for children and families and enhanced unemployment benefits. Pelosi wanted to renew $600 in additional weekly benefits, but the administration offered only $400 per week.

The new talks come amid worrying signs for the economy, which was propped up by the stimulus over the spring but has since started to slow by some measures. A cascade of new layoffs was announced last week, including by Disney and Allstate. The total number of people claiming unemployment rose slightly, to 26.5 million for the week ending Sept. 12.

Jeff Stein contributed to this report.