WASHINGTON – House Democrats are going back to the drawing board on a massive COVID-19 relief bill, scaling back the measure in a bid to reinvigorate negotiations with the Trump administration.
The Democratic-controlled chamber could also pass the $2.4 trillion measure next week if talks fail to demonstrate the party is not giving up on delivering virus relief ahead of the election.
The chamber passed a $3.4 trillion bailout measure in May, but Republicans dismissed the measure as bloated and unrealistic. Even though Democrats cut their ambitions by about $1 trillion, Senate Republicans focused on a much smaller bailout, in the range of $650 billion to $1 trillion.
Closing the overall chasm would be hard enough, but fleshing out hundreds of legislative details at the height of the presidential campaign and a heated battle to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s High Court seat could be impossible.
An aide familiar with the executive talks and authorized to characterize them said the new bill would total around $2.4 trillion and likely contain additional relief for the airline and restaurant sectors, which have been hit. particularly affected by the drop in business due to the virus. The aide requested anonymity to characterize the closed-door talks.
“We’re trying to figure out how to move a negotiation forward because we think the American people need help. And so we’re going to try,” Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass, said. “Our chairs are reviewing everything again and hopefully we can come up with something.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, commanded the effort, which caused a buzz in the Washington lobbying industry — and the news of which briefly appeared to send the stock market soaring — even as the Hope for a deal between the Democratic-controlled House, the GOP-held Senate, and the White House still seems like a long shot.
“We are still working hard to reach an agreement,” Pelosi told her colleagues, according to the aide. “If necessary, we can formalize the request by voting on it in the House.”
Recent talks between Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have come to nothing, but neither side wants to officially give up.
Republicans have reacted coldly, especially to the prospect of a partisan vote if the effort does not trigger constructive talks.
“It’s a waste of time,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, saying a Democrats-only approach would get nowhere. “She could pass 10 more partisan bills. That won’t get us one inch closer.”
Thursday’s developments come as moderate “frontline” Democrats in competitive re-election races have pressed leaders like Pelosi to become more flexible. Some helped draft a $1.5 trillion bipartisan bill that fell flat when it was introduced last week. say they are not interested in a “message vote” that offers political coverage but fails to be heard from the Senate or the White House.
“We are focused on a negotiation, we want to get a deal with Secretary Mnuchin and the Senate because we want to get help for people, not just messages,” the House Majority Leader said. Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
Pelosi had largely dismissed protests from moderates to curtail COVID leadership demands or plan a floor vote. Some of the dissidents, however, had threatened to sign off on a GOP procedural effort to push through a renewal of small business aid, a step likely to embarrass him.
“I hope this brings Republicans to the table to provide much-needed help to the American people,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who represents a swing seat. “We’ve been more than reasonable about the negotiations and the needs of the American people, and shame on them if they can’t come to the table.”
The revised measure will likely contain scaled-down proposals to help states and local governments, $1,200 in direct payments to most Americans, more than $100 billion in aid for schools seeking to reopen safely, and funding for new pandemic unemployment benefits and the production of a COVID vaccine.
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