“Our conversation was a positive one. We’ll get back together tomorrow to see how we can find common ground on how we, again, help state and local government play the role it does,” Pelosi said of her call with Mnuchin on MSNBC on Tuesday.
Leaders of both parties have tried and failed to reach a new deal on coronavirus aid since early August. But talks have been at a bitter stalemate for weeks, with Pelosi and Mnuchin barely speaking for most of September, let alone trading offers.
The two are now making one final attempt to restart talks, though both chambers have just a handful of days in session left before the recess and the Senate is absorbed with a Supreme Court confirmation battle. It also remains unclear how Democrats and Republicans would resolve some of the biggest sticking points in recent months.
Democrats, for example, have demanded aid for state and local governments, which have seen revenues plummet during the pandemic. Republicans have dismissed it as a nonstarter.
The bill Pelosi introduced Monday is a pared down version of the massive $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May. That bill was opposed by Republicans, who balked at the cost and instead called for a “pause” in coronavirus talks for much of the summer.
The latest House version includes $436 billion in aid for state and local governments, $75 billion to bolster coronavirus testing and contact tracing nationwide, restores expired federal unemployment benefits and provides another round of stimulus payments for most Americans. The bill also provides additional relief for airlines, restaurants and small businesses that wasn’t included in the Heroes legislation.
Pelosi’s decision to introduce a smaller coronavirus relief package comes after weeks of resistance, despite centrist Democrats and some senior lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, publicly suggesting the idea.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) had previously dismissed the suggestion, saying it only weakened Democrats’ negotiating hand in talks with Republicans. Republican leaders, meanwhile, have insisted they won’t go above a relief package that costs around $1.5 trillion, keeping the two parties far apart in the talks.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has cast doubt on Congress’ chances of approving any relief package ahead of the election. McConnell is instead focused on securing Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the high court before the election.
But some centrist House Democrats believed that another, narrower bill could remind voters back home that their side of the Capitol at least made an attempt to deliver more relief, even if the measure doesn’t completely restart talks with Republicans.
“Passing a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package should be our number one priority in the coming days,” a group of moderate Democrats wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Hoyer this week.
Jake Sherman contributed to this report.