A last-ditch effort has been made to jumpstart fiscal stimulus talks before campaigning for November’s election kicks into high gear, as Democrats prepare a $2 trillion-plus bill to boost the economy in the wake of the coronavirus.
Little has changed since talks broke down in early August among Democrats and the White House, so it remains unclear if the latest bill will do much more than provide House Democrats with a way to say they again tried to make a deal happen, before both House and Senate members head home for campaign season.
Yet, hope still remains that the latest salvo could provide the spark needed to reignite those negotiations before lawmakers leave Washington for the campaign trail.
House Democratic leaders, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, decided to go ahead with their effort after meeting Thursday afternoon, according to a source familiar with the process. The fresh proposal was first reported by Politico.
The bill is expected to include funding for major items that have found widespread support among both parties in the past, such as direct payments to households, the Paycheck Protection Program, a revival of a federal add-on to state unemployment benefits, as well as a renewal of aid to airlines and money to help restaurants stay open.
The source said the package was estimated to be about $2.4 trillion, though a House leadership aide said it was at $2.2 trillion early in the drafting process. Either way, it would formalize that Democrats have backed off their initial $3.4 trillion aid offer in May through the Heroes Act.
The White House’s last offer was $1.3 trillion, leaving a $900 billion gulf between the two sides. A recent attempt at a compromise by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, with a deal pegged at $1.5 trillion, got no support among Democratic leaders. Republican senators, meanwhile, unified around a bill that would spend about $650 billion in early September.
House Republicans, who have been angling for an alternative approach to bringing PPP funding back to the House floor, remained skeptical Thursday.
“It shows again she’s not serious about getting a COVID relief bill, and she’s just playing politics,” said House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. “And what’s really sad about this is it’s really hurting the American public, those who are unemployed, the small businesses.”
Moderate and politically vulnerable House Democrats have pushed for something to show constituents their work toward getting a deal done — and that they are not to blame for the deadlock. That may be a factor in Pelosi’s decision to move ahead with a fresh, but pared-back, stimlus package.
Even so, with a stopgap bill to fund the government through Dec. 11 looking set to clear the Senate next week, lawmakers would have time to focus on another aid bill before heading home at the end of next week.
Pelosi hinted at her weekly press conference Thursday morning she wanted to get the stalled talks back on track, while answering one of the criticisms made by Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, that Democrats refused to say how they would spend the new money.
“I’m eager to hear what they have to say when they come, but we’ll be hopefully soon to the table with them, very soon, showing you where our money would be spent,” she said.