Speaker Nancy Pelosi is hitting pause on bipartisan negotiations on a $1.6 trillion-plus emergency package in the Senate, saying the House will forge ahead with its own bill to address coronavirus after congressional leaders failed to reach a deal earlier Sunday.
Pelosi’s comments come just hours before the Senate is scheduled to take a critical procedural vote on the package aimed at trying to stymie an economic collapse as the coronavirus continues to disrupt massive sectors of the U.S. economy.
“From my standpoint, we’re apart,” Pelosi told reporters as she entered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office Sunday morning.
Pelosi and McConnell met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in hopes of hammering out a final agreement before the afternoon Senate vote.
Pelosi’s outlook for a deal wasn’t any better as she left the hour-long meeting, declaring plans for the House to introduce its own bill. Pelosi said the two sides were “still talking” but made clear that the Monday timeframe to pass something is McConnell’s self-imposed deadline, not hers.
“It’s on the Senate side because that’s their deadline for a vote,” Pelosi said about the Monday deadline. “We'll be introducing our own bill and hopefully it will be compatible.”
Despite saying the House would move ahead on its own, Pelosi also continued to engage in bipartisan negotiations on the Senate bill Sunday afternoon, according to a source.
Senior House Democrats have been working on dual tracks for days — simultaneously drafting language for their own bill while also conferring with Senate Democrats on what they’d like to see in the McConnell-Schumer proposal.
The various House panels involved, from Financial Services to Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Education and Labor, were told to wrap up their portions of the bill Saturday night. The House Appropriations Committee is now compiling all of the language and legislative text could be expected as soon as Monday, according to multiple sources.
Democratic leadership also huddled on a conference call on Friday night, where Pelosi reiterated her plans to release a legislative framework that lets Democrats lay a marker in the talks.
It's unclear what exactly will be in the final House Democratic package. The caucus held several hours of conference calls this week for members to promote their ideas, including a significant expansion of unemployment insurance, direct cash payments to Americans under a certain income threshold, funding for hospitals and medical supplies, and grants to keep small businesses from folding. Hundreds of proposals were submitted from all corners of the caucus.
"I'm anxious to see what Speaker Pelosi would put on the table. She needs to be part of this conversation," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) when asked about Pelosi's plans. "We do have a bicameral Congress and the House of Representatives will ultimately consider whatever is sent to them. And I hope we can have a bipartisan agreement when that's sent."
Many of those same provisions are also being negotiated in the Senate bill but some House Democrats wanted to go even further, using the urgency of the herculean package to achieve broader, long term policy goals like a massive infrastructure deal.
But even some House Democrats are privately wondering what is Pelosi’s endgame, especially given that lawmakers, including many in her own caucus, don’t even want to return to Washington at all, much less for a standoff with the Senate. Already, two House members have tested positive for coronavirus and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday said he’s contracted the virus.
McConnell, meanwhile, has sought to drum up the pressure on House Democrats to support the Senate’s package, comparing it to last week’s multi-billion dollar “Phase 2” emergency package that Congress approved, which was largely crafted by Pelosi and Mnuchin.
“It would be best for the country if the House would take it up and pass it just like we did earlier this week when the House passed a bill that I had only marginal participation in because the country was desperate for results. So I hope that’s the way this ends,” McConnell told reporters.
Senate Republicans and the White House reiterated on Sunday they are ready to muscle ahead with the $1.6-plus trillion economic rescue package, which includes $350 billion for small businesses support and $250 billion for unemployment insurance. It also includes billions in relief to distressed industries like airlines, and billions more to help hospitals address the influx of patients.
But Pelosi’s stance has thrown a wrench in negotiations just as McConnell is ready to close down talks altogether and vote. Pelosi took part in her first face-to-face meetings on the package Sunday morning, after flying back from San Francisco on Saturday.
But it’s not clear how Pelosi’s plan would work — committee chairs have been frenetically compiling ideas for a legislative package, but are not yet ready for legislative text. Members have been largely kept in the dark about which ideas will be included, though they trust leadership to compile a package.
The impasse in negotiations on Sunday comes after both sides insisted on Saturday that they were nearing the end of marathon talks on a $1 trillion-plus package that would attempt to blunt the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, which threatens to halt virtually all U.S. commerce for weeks, if not months.
During a rare Saturday session at the Capitol, top Republicans and Democrats worked to narrow the list of sticking points on issues like unemployment insurance and airline relief, with the intention of releasing a framework of the deal, if not full legislative text, by late afternoon.
“The Democrats are getting some of the things they’ve asked for,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters, ticking off wins like immediate relief to individuals, protections for health care workers, and shoring up small businesses. “They’re getting what they wanted on unemployment insurance.”
But the two sides did not come to an agreement after roughly 12 more hours of talks on Saturday. By Sunday afternoon, Republicans had begun circulating text among their own members, which they intend to put on the floor on Monday.