House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin inched closer to a coronavirus stimulus deal Wednesday, though they still are working on some issues, particularly school safety.
The two spoke for about an hour and made progress on finding middle ground on policies for a national COVID-19 testing and contact tracing plan, according to Mrs. Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill. They’re set to speak again Thursday.
“Today’s conversation brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation,” Mr. Hammill wrote.
This week has been set up as lawmakers’ last chance to strike a deal between the White House’s $1.8 trillion proposal and the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion package to pass a relief package before Election Day.
Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were both optimistic about reaching a deal, but the speaker wasn’t sure it would be done in time for the election.
The White House was hopeful that a deal could be finalized by Friday, but Senate Republicans remain skeptical of that deadline, the price tag and the policy details that Democrats want.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, remained skeptical a deal could be reached in the next 48 hours, saying it was “possible, but not probable.” He said appropriators still don’t have all the details they need for their work.
Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, though, pointed out the chances of anything getting done in a lame-duck session is slim.
“I think if we don’t have something agreed to and partially processed — maybe the House has voted and we haven’t gotten to it yet before the lame-duck — I think the lame duck is a really hard time to get much done in any lame duck and I don’t see why this one would be different,” he told reporters. “If we’re gonna do it this year, I think it’s now or never.”
Mr. Meadows visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to discuss the stimulus talks with Republican senators at their weekly luncheon, and afterwards acknowledged that the GOP conference isn’t united, particularly on passing another trillion-dollar-plus package to try to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus on the U.S. economy.
However, they were all on the same page about their concerns regarding Mrs. Pelosi and her intentions to make a deal.
“I’m still very hopeful and very optimistic that we’re making progress, and yet you know our Senate Republicans are starting to get to a point where they believe that she is not negotiating in a fair and equitable manner,” Mr. Meadows said.
“It looks like the Democrats have once again defeated at least a foundation of $500 to $600 billion — in defeating that, it’s a real disappointment because at least we can agree upon both of the provisions that were put forth on the Senate floor today,” he continued. “And yet, because of politics, Democrats decided to say no, but we’re gonna continue to stay engage over the next couple of days.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put up two pieces of legislation for votes this week: a stand-alone bill to create a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses and a $500 billion “targeted” stimulus package.
The package included scaled-down, enhanced unemployment benefits, more than $100 billion for schools, and additional funds for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and vaccine research.
Both were rejected, blocked by Democrats. With their Senate majority at 53 lawmakers, Republicans needed some Democrats to support the bills to reach the 60 votes necessary to advance the bills.
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