Pelosi preps new coronavirus relief plan amid stalled talks

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has directed her committee chairs to assemble a scaled back coronavirus relief package as a basis for potential talks with the White House, according to Democratic sources. But an agreement still seems out of reach, and the House could vote on the new proposal next week even without GOP support.

Pelosi and House Democratic leaders are meeting Thursday afternoon to decide on what course they will take, said the sources.

“I’m talking with my caucus, my leadership, and we’ll see what we’re going to do,” Pelosi said heading into the leadership meeting. “But we’re ready for a negotiation. That’s what we’re ready for.”

The move comes after Pelosi refused, for weeks, to consider passing another relief bill amid a lengthy standoff with Republicans and rising demands from centrist Democrats that the House take more action before the election. Putting the bill on the floor would also be a win for Pelosi’s deputy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who has been pushing the idea for weeks.

Pelosi did not explicitly mention her plans during a weekly press conference Thursday. But the California Democrat did say she hopes to hear from Republicans soon and would have more details on Democrats’ next steps soon.

“We’ll be hopefully soon to the table with them, but very soon showing you where our money would be spent,” Pelosi told reporters.

Pelosi asked the committee leaders to begin the process of drafting a bill in August but they have been instructed to update the package this week, according to a senior Democratic aide. It’s likely to have a price tag of around $2.4 trillion, according to Democratic aides.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held several weeks of negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows from late July to early August, but the talks failed amid partisan finger-pointing. The two sides were hundreds of billions of dollars apart on overall spending levels, with aid to state and local governments — a top Democratic priority — a huge stumbling block.

Pelosi and Mnuchin have held several phone calls since then, and they hashed out a deal this week on a short-term spending package to keep the federal government open until Dec. 11, but there has been no movement on a Covid-19 relief bill.

“I’ve probably spoken to Speaker Pelosi 15 or 20 times in the last few days on the CR and we agreed to continue to have discussions on the CARES Act,” Mnuchin said at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday.

But, he added, “right now we’re stuck” because Democrats want at least a $2.2 trillion plan.

The legislation is expected to contain popular provisions from the massive $3.4 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May, including state and local funding and expanded unemployment benefits but likely for a shorter time frame than originally proposed, according to Democrats involved.

With key assistance like federal jobless aid and business grants having expired, many House Democrats have grown desperate in their calls for Pelosi and her leadership team to take up additional relief bills before the chamber leaves for a month-long recess next week.

That includes some of the caucus’ most endangered Democrats who are anxious about the election in just 40 days, as well as others from districts that have been battered by the economic fallout from the pandemic. About a dozen Democrats had even considered joining a long-shot GOP discharge petition to force a vote on small business relief.

Many centrist Democrats argued that voters back home wouldn’t remember the massive legislation the House passed in May, which has since languished in the Senate. Some lawmakers, as part of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, drafted their own approximately $2 trillion proposal in an attempt to restart talks.

But Pelosi has repeatedly countered that Democrats should not put forward a more narrow package when Republicans refuse to budge on their demands.

“We will negotiate with the administration and the Republicans, not with ourselves,” Pelosi said last week when asked about negotiations on the next package.

Some top Democrats, including Hoyer, have privately and publicly disagreed with Pelosi, however. Hoyer said Wednesday that he was pushing for a vote next week on a new Democrat-led bill to reflect the party’s willingness to negotiate, even if the Senate GOP again ignores it.

“I am hopeful and believe that we should pass an alternative which deals with all the issues that we dealt with in ‘Heroes,’ albeit at lesser numbers and lesser time frames, and then we’ll see what happens in the election,” Hoyer told reporters Wednesday.

“People are really hurting,” he said, adding that Democrats’ “best politics” would be to put forward another bill before departing for the October recess.

Victoria Guida contributed to this report.

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