Hmmm: Pelosi announces no recess until Phase 4 relief bill passes

Hmmm: Pelosi announces no recess until Phase 4 relief bill passes

Did the calculus on another round of relief spending change on Capitol Hill today? Nancy Pelosi just placed a big bet on a Phase 4 agreement — and wagered the campaign season on it, in fact. Earlier today, Pelosi ordered the House to remain in session until an agreement on an aid package gets hammered out between House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the White House.

Considering which party needs to campaign to hold its majority in the lower chamber, that’s a big wager from the House speaker:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday the House will remain in session until lawmakers deliver another round of COVID-19 relief.

Pelosi told her Democratic colleagues on a morning conference call that “we have to stay here until we have a bill.” That’s according to a Democratic aide speaking on condition of anonymity but authorized to quote her remarks. …

Tuesday’s remarks, said Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill, don’t mean that the speaker is adopting a more flexible position. She instead seems to be signaling continued determination to press ahead and won’t adjourn the House without an agreement with the administration.

But as the talks collapsed, some moderate Democrats have been agitating for greater compromise. Their talks with pragmatic Republicans yielded common ground but the group does not have much of a track record of broadening their efforts and dominating debates.

Just at the moment when Democratic incumbents need to campaign to hold their seats — especially in suburbs they only converted in the midterms — Pelosi will force them to remain in DC. Hmmmmm. It’s not as if the top of the ticket is assisting with big GOTV and ground-game efforts; Joe Biden’s not doing any of that. In fact, Team Biden had to have been hoping that their down-ballot candidates would be filling that gap for Biden.

Pelosi can read an electoral calendar as well as anyone, and she isn’t going to roll the dice on that without some sense that a deal is near. Her caucus would rebel if they get stuck in DC for very long, plus she’s not about to commit self-immolation on the off chance that voters might blame Trump for a lack of relief. This looks like a set-up for some major concessions, and a new proposal from a bipartisan group of House members might give Pelosi a lifeline:

The 50-member, bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus on Tuesday will release a $1.5 trillion COVID-19 aid package that they hope will help push congressional leaders and the White House toward a similar compromise. …

In arriving at $1.5 trillion, the Problem Solvers plan is almost exactly halfway between the $3.4 trillion bill the House passed in May and a $300 billion proposal Senate Republicans offered on the floor last week. Their proposal, however, includes automatic triggers based on hospitalization rates and progress towards vaccine development that could increase the cost by as much as $400 billion or reduce it by up to $200 billion.

The caucus officially endorsed the proposal, which requires support from at least 75 percent of its members, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. Problem Solvers co-chairmen Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y., kept party leaders apprised of the group’s work, but it’s unclear whether key negotiators will embrace the plan or even components of it.

Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson thinks this might play better with the White House than Pelosi, but still has a good chance of engaging both:

White House negotiators, having expressed openness to going up to $1.5 trillion, may be more open to the plan than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has said Democrats wouldn’t go lower than $2.2 trillion. …

Speaking Tuesday morning on CNBC, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn’t embrace the compromise plan but didn’t shoot it down, either. Instead he called out Pelosi as the obstacle to a deal, citing the Problem Solvers plan as evidence that “her own members are upset” by the lack of action.

Pelosi called that “silliness,” but the emergence of the proposal is a hard shot against her leverage in this standoff regardless of her motivations.

So what’s in the bill? It basically splits the difference on state and local bloc grants, offering $500 billion rather than Pelosi’s demand for over $900 billion. It does, however, include triggers to cut that spending if conditions improve rapidly, and about a quarter of that money is earmarked specifically for COVID-19 related activities. It includes a second round of stimulus payments and authorizes a third round in March, if economic conditions fail to improve, which probably will be more popular in the White House than among Senate Republicans.

Most remarkably, it includes the liability protections for businesses that Senate Republicans demanded, although tying that protection to mandates to follow OSHA guidelines for reopening. Democrats pledged never to go for that idea, driven by their ties to the trial-lawyer lobby. The need for horse-trading to get some of the other spending into the bill — $100 billion for school reopenings, $15 billion for the post office, replenishing the PPP and small-business loan programs — made this a necessary concession.

There are plenty of ways to rationally object to most or all of that spending. However, it’s also a fairly straightforward compromise between Pelosi’s hardline position and the Senate Republicans’ desire for precisely targeted aid. That is how the sausage gets made, at least under normal circumstances. If Pelosi’s forcing her members to stick around, it seems likely that she’s ready to embrace this compromise — and hopes to get credit for it with her recess-canceling stunt today.

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John Sexton 3:20 PM on September 26, 2023