Pelosi expresses hope deal can be reached with White House on COVID-19 relief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said on Sunday she thinks a deal can be reached with the White House on a coronavirus relief package and that talks were continuing.

“We are having our conversations. And when I have a conversation with the administration, it is in good faith,” Pelosi said on CNN. “I trust (Treasury) Secretary (Steve) Mnuchin to represent something that can reach a solution. And I believe we can come to an agreement.”

Formal talks between Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows aimed at hammering out a relief package broke down on Aug. 7 with the two sides far apart. Pelosi and Mnuchin have since spoken by phone.

With formal COVID-19 relief talks stalled for weeks, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal on Thursday said Democratic lawmakers were starting to draft a bill totaling at least $2.2 trillion.

Pelosi on Sunday said it was “definitely a possibility” that she would offer legislation in the coming days if the impasse with the Trump administration continued but said she would rather have a deal with the White House than a “rhetorical argument.”

Any legislation the Democratic-led House might approve would be unlikely to advance in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Pelosi and Schumer had originally sought a $3.4 trillion relief package but have scaled back their demands. Meadows has previously said that Trump would be willing to sign a $1.3 trillion bill.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

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Top Democrat expresses hope deal can be reached with White House on COVID-19 relief

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said on Sunday she thinks a deal can be reached with the White House on a coronavirus relief package and that talks were continuing.

“We are having our conversations. And when I have a conversation with the administration, it is in good faith,” Pelosi said on CNN. “I trust (Treasury) Secretary (Steve) Mnuchin to represent something that can reach a solution. And I believe we can come to an agreement.”

Formal talks between Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows aimed at hammering out a relief package broke down on Aug. 7 with the two sides far apart. Pelosi and Mnuchin have since spoken by phone.

With formal COVID-19 relief talks stalled for weeks, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal on Thursday said Democratic lawmakers were starting to draft a bill totaling at least $2.2 trillion.

Pelosi on Sunday said it was “definitely a possibility” that she would offer legislation in the coming days if the impasse with the Trump administration continued but said she would rather have a deal with the White House than a “rhetorical argument.”

Any legislation the Democratic-led House might approve would be unlikely to advance in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.

Pelosi and Schumer had originally sought a $3.4 trillion relief package but have scaled back their demands. Meadows has previously said that Trump would be willing to sign a $1.3 trillion bill.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

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Deal reached on stopgap funding bill; quick House vote scheduled

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., a freshman who knocked off a GOP incumbent two years ago, tweeted Tuesday that taking farm spending authority out of the stopgap was a “partisan move that slows down much-needed relief for farmers and agribusinesses.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said Monday that the farm money has been used as a “slush fund” for favored political interests, including oil refiners.

Other Democrats had also picked up on that talking point after Reuters reported earlier this month that the Trump administration had considered diverting up to $300 million in CCC funds to refiners who were denied waivers from costly renewable fuels quotas. Reuters reported late Monday that the tentative plan had been shelved.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he didn’t know anything about such a plan. “There’s nothing that we can find in there for Big Oil, or small oil, or anything,” he said.

The House Agriculture Committee’s top Republican, K. Michael Conaway of Texas, had tried Monday to offer an amendment that would restore both the farm payments and the school nutrition program extension, but was blocked by Rules Committee Democrats.

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Pelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump order on drug prices faces long road to finish line Overnight Defense: Dems divided on length of stopgap spending measure | Afghan envoy agrees to testify before House panel | Trump leans into foreign policy in campaign’s final stretch Pence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday announced that the House will remain in session until the parties have an agreement on another round of emergency coronavirus relief. 

In a conference call with the House Democratic Caucus — the first since the chamber returned from a long summer recess — Pelosi indicated she isn’t willing to accept a “skinny” legislative package, but told her troops the chamber’s calendar will be extended until an agreement is sealed, according to sources on the call. 

“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi told lawmakers.

The surprise development reflects both the severity of the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the growing pressure Pelosi is facing from the moderate wing of her party, which is clamoring for leadership to vote on another aid package before Congress leaves town again for the elections.

The practical effects of the announcement, however, will likely be slight.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerRaces heat up for House leadership posts Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | ‘Markeyverse’ of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections Google, Apple, eBay to meet virtually with lawmakers for tech group’s annual fly-in MORE (D-Md.) acknowledged that most lawmakers will likely return to their districts when the scheduled session ends on Oct. 2, leaving party leaders seeking to hash out an agreement with the White House. If such a deal emerges, then members would be called back to Washington. In that sense, the dynamics would look very similar to those surrounding the long August recess, when the Capitol was all but empty.

“You could look at it as a distinction without a difference of the last few months,” Hoyer said on a press call. “But in another sense it tells members, ‘Look, we know the election’s coming up, we know you want to go back and campaign. But understand this is a priority … and that we are going to address it as soon as we possibly can.’ ” 

Leaders of the Blue Dog Democrats have, for weeks, pressed Pelosi and other party leaders to take up another relief bill preelection. On Monday, leaders of the New Democrat Coalition piled on, warning that lawmakers in battleground districts could be particularly harmed by congressional inaction. And leaders of the Problem Solvers, a bipartisan group, are set Tuesday morning to unveil a new aid package topping $1.5 trillion. 

“We are not in any way attempting to undermine the Speaker’s negotiating positions,” Rep. Ann KusterAnn McLane KusterLawmakers press CDC for guidance on celebrating Halloween during pandemic Chinese tech giants

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Pelosi says House will stay in session until new deal reached on economic relief

The House is scheduled to adjourn at the end of this month until after the election. Bipartisan talks on a new relief measure collapsed last month and have not been revived, leading to speculation that Congress and the administration will be unable to reach a bipartisan accord before Election Day.

White House adviser Jared Kushner suggested in an interview on CNBC Tuesday that a deal might have to wait.

“The hope is we’ll still get to a deal. It may have to be after the election,” Kushner said.

The two sides have been far apart. On Tuesday’s call Pelosi also rejected the notion of a slimmed-down or “skinny” bill such as the $300 billion measure Democrats blocked last week in the Senate.

“A skinny bill is not a deal. It’s a Republican bill,” she said on the conference call.

Pelosi has continued to hold out for legislation with a pricetag of at least $2 trillion that would include generous aid for cities and states, as well as unemployment and nutrition assistance, stimulus checks for individual Americans, money for coronavirus testing and tracing, help for the Post Office and elections, and more.

But with Republicans unwilling to agree to such expensive legislation, some Democrats have begun to discuss other options.

The centrist-leaning New Democrat Coalition, whose members include multiple freshman lawmakers in tough re-election fights, held a conference call on Monday night to emphasize the need for action before Congress adjourns for the recess. Lawmakers in the group said they supported Pelosi and wanted a good bill, but also suggested that action to extend unemployment insurance and a few other aid programs would be better than nothing.

The bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House released their own attempted compromise Tuesday morning, a $1.5 trillion proposal that could grow larger or smaller depending on infection rates and vaccine progress.

Congress passed four bills totaling about $3 trillion in aid in March and April, but has not acted since. The House passed another $3.4 trillion bill in May, but Senate Republicans and the administration held off on restarting negotiations until July. Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) held multiple hours of talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows but ultimately got nowhere.

Meanwhile many of the programs agreed to in the initial round of spending have expired, including a $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefit that ran out July 31. President Trump stepped in last month with some limited executive actions, including replacing the $600 benefit with one half that size, but the money for that is now expiring.

Some 30 million Americans are currently relying on some type of unemployment assistance. Others face the prospect of homelessness or poverty, and state and municipal coffers are running dry because of the drop in tax revenue, which has already led to mass layoffs.

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Pelosi wants House to stay in session until COVID deal reached

Washington — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a call with Democratic members on Tuesday that she wants the House to stay in session until a deal is reached on a coronavirus relief bill, and reiterated her intentions in an interview with CNBC.

“I just got off the call with my colleagues. We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement, an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” Pelosi told CNBC.

The House reconvened this week, nearly two months after talks broke down between congressional Democrats and White House officials over a new relief bill. The House passed its own $3 trillion bill in May, but Senate Republicans have refused to consider this proposal. Senate Democrats also blocked Republican efforts to pass a slimmed-down relief bill in the Senate last week.

Congressional Democrats and White House officials were unable to agree on a price tag for the next relief bill after weeks of negotiations in July. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said they were willing to lower their proposal to $2 trillion, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows argued that Democrats wanted to include too many provisions that they felt were unrelated to the pandemic.

Both chambers of Congress recessed in August, after a popular enhanced unemployment benefit providing an extra $600 per week expired at the end of July. The benefit was established as part of the CARES Act, which passed in March. President Trump signed executive orders in August aimed at lessening the economic impact of the pandemic by providing a smaller unemployment benefit on top of weekly unemployment insurance if states are able to implement it.

Meanwhile, the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus is expected to unveil its own coronavirus relief plan on Tuesday. It is unclear whether this proposal will receive support in the Senate.

Congress must also agree on a package to fund the government before funding expires at the end of September. 

Kimberly Brown contributed reporting.

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Pelosi: House will stay in until coronavirus deal reached

Those centrist members, including members of the New Democrats Coalition or the Blue Dogs Coalition, have stepped up their calls both publicly and privately to vote on additional coronavirus relief bills.

Some, led by the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, have drafted their own long-shot compromise in an attempt to pry loose some kind of deal before November.

That group released a roughly $2 trillion plan on Tuesday that would renew now-expired programs like unemployment aid and small business loans, though it also includes billions in spending that Senate Republicans have already rejected, like cash for state and local governments or the U.S. Postal Service. Pelosi has indicated she would negotiate a $2.4 trillion package with Republicans but hasn’t been open to going below that number.

Pelosi didn’t address the Problem Solvers plan during Tuesday’s call, instead mostly defending her decision to hold out for a larger deal despite Republicans refusal to negotiate one thus far. Some of Pelosi’s allies, including House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), defended the strategy.

“For us, not to cave in is really important,” Neal said on the call, according to Democrats who dialed in.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) also spoke in favor of Pelosi’s plan, telling colleagues to “lean in and support the speaker’s position.”

“Stay the course,” Maloney continued. “We are in the right place on this, and we will get a negotiation that is better for your local competitive you know areas and in these Trump districts for a bunch of reasons.”

But not everyone was in agreement.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said it was clear Democrats would have to address the coronavirus again before going home for the election, noting it’s been four months since the House passed its $3.4 trillion relief bill that went nowhere in the Senate.

“We can’t leave town without a package,” DeFazio said. “We need to talk about all of our principles in a five month bill.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the No. 2 House Democrat, has also been vocal about passing some kind of new coronavirus deal ahead of the critical final weeks before the election.

Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), who flipped a GOP district in 2018, also pushed for a more targeted coronavirus bill during the caucus call.

“I think there’s a place here for us to have some sort of tailored down bill to get us to January 21 when we have a new president,” Schrier said, according to Democrats on the call. “That shows the American people where we stand and makes us look like the adults in the room.”

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