WASHINGTON ― In a small sign of hope, House Democrats delayed a vote Wednesday night on another coronavirus relief package, allowing congressional leaders and the White House to continue negotiations.
The delay is good news for those rooting for another round of stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits, as Democrats are signaling there could yet be a breakthrough in negotiations, which have been stalled for two months. But the sliver of hope may be waning: Democratic leaders also announced Wednesday night that they would move forward with a vote on their scaled-down package Thursday if there was not a significant breakthrough.
“If we have an agreement, that’s what we will consider,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday. “We want something signed by the president. We want money in people’s hands.”
The current $2.2 trillion proposal that Democrats delayed is a step down from the $3.4 trillion bill Democrats passed in May. But it’s still, apparently, far apart from a package on which Republicans are willing to compromise. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has refused to go along with Democratic proposals ― and he doesn’t seem eager to make a deal.
“We’re very, very far apart,” McConnell said at a weekly press conference on Wednesday.
He called the $2.2 trillion bill “outlandish” this week and dismissed its cost as “too high.”
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are primarily negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, hoping that President Tweety McTreason would then pressure McConnell and Senate Republicans to take up a compromise regardless of their cost concerns.
That’s the hope, at least.
We want something signed by the president. We want money in people’s hands.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.)
Negotiations are extremely delicate at the moment. After hourlong meetings with both McConnell and Pelosi on Wednesday, Mnuchin suggested the two sides may be closer to reaching a deal but reiterated that they weren’t there yet.
“We made a lot of progress over the last few days. We still don’t have an agreement, but we have more work to do. And we’re going to see where we end up,” Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin’s meeting with Pelosi on Wednesday was their first in-person discussion since talks collapsed in August, and though there appears to have been some progress, there wasn’t enough for Pelosi to call off a vote on the scaled-down proposal in the House. Pelosi announced Wednesday afternoon that there would be a vote later in the day, signifying that Democrats didn’t believe there’d be a deal and that they would once again message that it’s Republicans holding up a compromise, not them.
But that changed later in the day when Pelosi reversed herself and gave the White House a little more time.
The back-and-forth may be short-lived, however, as Democrats said they would vote Thursday if they didn’t feel there was enough movement overnight or in the morning.
Though passing a bill may seem like a step forward, it actually may be the opposite. Republicans in the Senate aren’t willing to pass even this smaller package, and passage in the House is merely a form of political posturing ― a way for Democrats to message that they’ve compromised and point out that it’s Republicans who are refusing to come to the table.
The biggest sticking points in a deal have been pretty consistent for months now: financial aid to cities and states, liability protections for businesses, and the overall cost of the package. There’s some agreement among GOP negotiators that another round of stimulus checks for most Americans and beefed-up unemployment benefits would be a good idea. In March, Congress passed an extra $600 a week for unemployment checks, but it expired at the end of July, and Democrats have been unwilling to take a narrow deal on just those items without aid to cities and states.
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