“We’re going to give it one more serious try to get this done, and I think we’re hopeful that we can get something done,” Mnuchin said. “I think there is a reasonable compromise here … It’s something the president very much wants to get done.”
It was unclear, however, if a deal could emerge in time. The House is set to adjourn within days through the election.
In absence of a deal, House Democratic leaders were preparing to move forward as soon as Wednesday with a vote on their $2.2 trillion bill, which is a slimmed-down version of the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the House passed in May.
It includes new stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, state and local aid, and money for schools, the U.S. Postal Service, election security and more. There is also payroll assistance for airlines that are facing the prospect of widespread furloughs as soon as Thursday unless a new aid package is passed.
Republicans oppose the bill as too costly and say it contains provisions extraneous to the novel coronavirus.
“This will be nothing more than fiddling while Rome burns,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Wednesday morning as the House Rules Committee met to agree on rules to debate the legislation.
“We have to move forward because some may be content with doing nothing but we aren’t,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).
Pelosi has been under intense pressure from moderates in her caucus, including some in tough reelection fights, to take new action to address the continued economic and public health ravages of the coronavirus.
However she has shown little sign she’s willing to back down from her $2.2 trillion price tag, with Democrats contending they’ve already compromised. On a private call with House Democrats on Wednesday morning, Pelosi said the American people are worth the $2.2 trillion, according to two people on the call who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe it.
She also said that state and local aid and legal liability protections continue to be obstacles to a deal. Republicans and the Trump administration favor liability protections Democrats oppose, while opposing the generous state and local aid Democrats want. The Democrats’ new bill has about $500 billion for state and local governments, about half as much as the original Heroes Act.
Congress passed four bills totaling an unprecedented $3 trillion in aid in the spring, but since then the bipartisan urgency that existed at the beginning of the pandemic has dissipated and the Senate hasn’t passed a related bill since. Talks involving Mnuchin and Pelosi collapsed in August and were renewed only a few days ago. Despite public expressions of optimism from Pelosi and Mnuchin, there is widespread pessimism about their ability to get a deal.
Millions remain unemployed and there are signs that the economic recovery that emerged over the summer is slowing down. Nevertheless the Trump administration continues to sound bullish about the economy.
“The economy is doing much better than anyone expected. … You’ve seen a very good rebound, and you’re going to see a very good quarter,” Mnuchin said Wednesday, while contending that “more fiscal response will help the economy.”
Separately, government funding runs out at midnight Wednesday, and agencies will begin to shut down unless the Senate passes — and Trump signs — a stopgap spending bill already passed by the House. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and get signed into law in time to avert a shutdown, although Congress and the administration were leaving little margin for error. The legislation must become law by midnight on Wednesday.