No Time Off Without Breakthrough on Stimulus Deal, Says Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, walks Monday to her office on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Until a deal is reached on the next pandemic relief package, the U.S. House of Representatives will forgo a fall recess and stay in session, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday.

Talks have been stalled for weeks over negotiations to help Americans as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches past the six-month mark. The U.S. House only recently returned from a lengthy summer break where discussions over another stimulus package dominated on Capitol Hill but failed to coalesce.

On a conference call Tuesday with the House Democratic Caucus, Speaker Pelosi said leaving Washington, D.C., before a deal was struck on emergency funding was a nonstarter.

“We have to stay here until we have a bill,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

For lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, pressure to find a solution is mounting.

Some 194,000 Americans have been killed by the novel coronavirus and over 6.5 million have been infected. And as of last week, though the economic forecast by the U.S. Labor Department showed a national decline in unemployment and an increase in available jobs, the department also reported a staggering 1.6 million Americans receiving unemployment benefits since the pandemic began.

At the same time last year, just 160,342 claims were filed — about one-tenth as many.

The House has already passed a $3.4 trillion relief package known as the Heroes Act this May, but it fell apart before the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell doomed it as an unpassable Democratic wish list.  

Throughout much of August, Pelosi maintained that Democrats wouldn’t budge on anything lower than $2.2 trillion, with $75 billion allotted for Covid-19 testing and tracing programs, $175 billion in rental and mortgage assistance, and another round of $1,200 direct payments to boost consumer spending. 

Republicans countered with a pared-down proposal of $1.1 trillion, but this “skinny” relief bill also failed last week with Democrats calling the bill’s addition of $300 per week in unemployment benefits inadequate.

“A skinny deal is not a deal. It is a Republican bill,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

As the speaker vowed to keep members of the House in session, groups like the House Problem Solvers Caucus published their plans to juice talks around the hill.

The 50-member caucus of moderate Democrats and Republicans came together on Tuesday to settle on a $2 trillion package that would also feature a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks plus aid for small businesses and another boost to unemployment insurance. The funding, if passed, would be extended through the spring.

It is a longshot to pass, even Problem Solvers Caucus leaders Josh Gottheimer and Tom Reed admitted Tuesday. Gottheimer is a New Jersey Democrat, and Reed a New York Republican.

In a silver lining, however, the proposal could spark a few new angles for Pelosi and other relief negotiators including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, to consider in the weeks ahead. 

Pelosi has so far been mum on the caucus’s offer. 

The middle-ground framework calls for $100 billion in testing and health care, $120 billion in unemployment assistance, and, among its other features, $15 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, funding for schools, food assistance programs. 

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the Problem Solvers’ proposal merited consideration.

“And while there are some priorities outlined that are inconsistent with the White House’s initial proposal, it could provide a basis for further conversations with the speaker and leader in the Senate,” Meadows told Politico.

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