If this shows movement in the standoff over Phase 4 COVID-19 relief, it’s only enough to make snails feel better about their average speed. Nancy Pelosi’s latest bid on the stalled talks is almost a laughable proposition, given what leverage she still has in these talks. With Pelosi having last suggested a $2.5 trillion plan for relief stocked with massive bloc grants to state and local governments, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers caucus came up with a $1.5 trillion compromise that neatly split the differences between the Senate Republican plan and Pelosi’s last offer.
The White House, which would like to get stimulus checks out the door before the election or find a way to blame Pelosi for blocking them, almost immediately endorsed the Problem Solvers’ proposal, at least in broad strokes. With her members champing at the bit to get out of Washington, pressure has piled up on Pelosi to move off her last position. And so she did.
House Democrats are preparing a new, smaller coronavirus relief package expected to cost about $2.4 trillion as they try to forge ahead with talks with the Trump administration, a person familiar with the plans said Thursday.
The bill would include enhanced unemployment insurance, direct payments to Americans, Paycheck Protection Program small-business loan funding and aid to airlines, among other provisions, the person said. To reach the price tag, Democrats would chop roughly $1 trillion from their previous proposal for a fifth pandemic aid plan.
The party aims to restart stimulus negotiations with the White House after talks fell apart last month. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly pushed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to boost the administration’s roughly $1.3 trillion offer by another trillion dollars.
Is it really “smaller”? Only barely. It’s the kind of movement that serves rhetorical purposes only, as in Hey, I moved toward their position, and now it’s time they moved in mine! That only works, however, if people don’t realize that (a) it’s not much of a change at all, and (b) the bipartisan compromise means Pelosi may not have the votes anyway.
In fact, it’s not even the lowest number that Pelosi has been tossing around lately. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the Senate Banking Committee yesterday that Pelosi proposed a $2.2 trillion figure for a compromise position in the most recent negotiations:
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.
In other words, Pelosi has moved, all right — only in the other direction. And that might be a problem, Politico reported this morning, because her moderates are getting mighty restless with the election approaching:
Dems are hoping to use the new proposal to kick-start the stalled negotiations with the White House, but even if GOP support doesn’t materialize, the bill could still get a floor vote next week.
The reversal from Pelosi comes amid mounting pressure from moderate Democrats, who have been calling for a vote on another relief bill before the October recess. Around a dozen of them were even threatening to sign a GOP discharge petition to circumvent leadership and force a vote on a targeted coronavirus bill. And yesterday, a number of frontliners were circulating letters demanding leadership devote floor time to the issue.
A discharge petition on the Problem Solvers’ proposal might well succeed, as that was backed by 25 Democrats — enough to provide a majority in a floor vote on the petition. That would be a disaster for Pelosi, which is why she’s now trying to dance around it with a new proposal to spend the same amount of money as her last proposal, while pretending she’s doing something differently. Pelosi might be better advised to embrace the Problem Solvers proposal and dare Mitch McConnell to pass it, which … may not be a slam dunk in the Senate.