U.S. House passes Democratic COVID-19 aid plan after bipartisan deal proves elusive
October 2, 2020
By Susan Cornwell, David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a $2.2 trillion Democratic plan to provide more economic relief from the coronavirus pandemic, as a bipartisan deal continued to elude House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House.
Objections from top Republicans are likely to doom the House Democrats’ plan in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called the $2.2 trillion price tag “outlandish,” although Democrats have reduced the cost of their proposal by over a trillion dollars since May. The House vote was 214-207.
No Republican voted for the Democratic plan, although 18 Democrats voted no, many of them moderates from swing districts who have been urging Pelosi to bring a bipartisan proposal to the House floor.
“Today’s package is another partisan exercise that will never become law,” Representative Abigail Spanberger, one of the Democrats who voted no, said.
Republican President Donald Trump’s negotiating team has suggested a $1.6 trillion response, and the White House on Thursday dismissed Democrats’ $2.2 trillion plan as not serious.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have talked every day this week, including a 50-minute phone call Thursday, in an effort to negotiate a bipartisan aid package to respond to the economic fallout from a pandemic that has killed more than 207,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.
Congress and the White House approved more than $3 trillion worth of coronavirus relief measures earlier this year, but Mnuchin, as well as members of Congress from both parties, have argued more stimulus is needed.
Asked if there would be a resolution to her negotiations with the administration on Thursday evening, Pelosi told reporters, “No.” She gave no details of their talks but said: “Even if we came to some agreement, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. It’s the language.”
In the absence of a deal with the White House, and with lawmakers preparing to leave Washington for the remaining weeks of the 2020 presidential and congressional campaign, the Democratic-majority House went ahead and passed the Democrats’ proposal.
“Frankly if we had reached a bipartisan agreement…we wouldn’t have this bill on the floor,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. “But we also want to let the American people know where we stand.”
Pelosi and Mnuchin differed over aid to state and local governments, Democratic demands for a child tax credit and stronger worker safety protections, healthcare provisions and help for small businesses.
After Pelosi and Mnuchin’s phone call Thursday afternoon, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter: “The two discussed further clarifications on amounts and language, but distance on key areas remain.”
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany dismissed the Democratic proposal as “not a serious offer.”
Pelosi said of the White House proposal on Bloomberg TV: “This isn’t half a loaf. What they’re offering is the heel of the loaf.”
Republican Senator Mike Braun told CNBC on Thursday that a deal worth over $1.6 trillion could be rejected by one-third to one-half of Senate Republicans. That would still allow a bill to pass with support from Democrats.
Lawmakers and securities analysts viewed talks as a last-gasp effort to secure relief ahead of the Nov. 3 election for tens of millions of Americans and business including U.S. airlines, which have begun furloughing over 32,000 workers.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chicacu, Daphne Psaledakis and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Cynthia Oserman