June 18, 2021

Deal elusive as Pelosi, Mnuchin discuss U.S. COVID-19 aid; House debates Democrats’ plan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin remained at odds on key areas of COVID-19 relief on Thursday, after they failed to bridge what Pelosi described as differences over dollars and values.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

Congressional Democrats led by Pelosi have proposed a $2.2 trillion package to respond to a pandemic that has killed more than 207,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work. In the absence of a deal with the White House, the Democratic-majority House of Representatives began debating the partisan relief bill and planned to vote on it on Thursday evening.

Republican President Donald Trump’s negotiating team has suggested a $1.6 trillion response, and the White House on Thursday dismissed Democrats’ offer as not serious.

As lawmakers prepared to leave Washington for the remaining weeks of the 2020 presidential and congressional campaign, Pelosi and Mnuchin differed over aid to state and local governments, Democratic demands for a child tax credit and stronger worker safety protections, healthcare provisions and aid for small businesses.

Pelosi told reporters she did not expect a deal on Thursday. “Even if we came to some agreement, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. It’s the language,” she said Thursday evening. She said she was reviewing some papers sent to her by the administration.

Earlier Thursday, she and Mnuchin had spent 50 minutes on the telephone. “The two discussed further clarifications on amounts and language, but distance on key areas remain,” Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, wrote on Twitter.

A bipartisan deal has been long delayed by disagreements over Democratic demands for aid to state and local governments and Republican insistence for a provision protecting businesses and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits

“Negotiations are continuing and I ardently hope that we can soon return to this floor with a bipartisan agreement,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, said during a debate. In the meantime, she said a strong vote in favor of the Democratic bill would demonstrate a “will to act.”

But Republicans said the bill’s price tag was too high. “It totals more than $2 trillion, which is more than we appropriate for an entire year,” said Representative Kay Granger, a Republican.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany dismissed the Democratic proposal as “not a serious offer.”

Pelosi said of the White House proposal on Bloomberg TV: “This isn’t half a loaf. What they’re offering is the heel of the loaf.”

Republican Senator Mike Braun told CNBC on Thursday that a deal worth over $1.6 trillion could be rejected by one-third to one-half of Senate Republicans. That would still allow a bill to pass with support from Democrats.

Pelosi and Mnuchin have been talking by phone all week, and they met for 90 minutes in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, with each emerging pledging to continue discussions.

Mnuchin raised hopes of an agreement by telling reporters that the discussions had made “a lot of progress in a lot of areas.”

Lawmakers and securities analysts viewed talks as a last-gasp effort to secure relief ahead of the Nov. 3 election for tens of millions of Americans and business including U.S. airlines, which have begun furloughing over 32,000 workers.

The Trump administration has proposed a $20 billion extension in aid for the battered airline industry, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters late on Wednesday.

Pressure for a deal has been mounting on the White House and Congress to strengthen the economy from the devastating effects of a coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 7.2 million people in the United States.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chicacu, Daphne Psaledakis and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Oserman and Lisa Shumaker

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