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WASHINGTON — House Democrats postponed a vote Wednesday on a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill in the hopes a deal could be reached as negotiations drag on with the White House on a plan to help Americans struggling from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote was postponed until Thursday to allow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and White House negotiators more time to discuss a potential bipartisan deal, said a Democratic aide, who was unable to discuss internal deliberations publicly.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met at the Capitol Wednesday for their first in-person negotiations since August. The two sides have been at an impasse for months over the size and scope of a COVID-19 relief bill, but rank-and-file members have pressured congressional leaders to get some sort of relief deal done by Election Day.
“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 Wednesday.
The House measure is a pared-down version of the legislation passed by House Democrats in May. It’s expected to pass the House, but will face opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have balked at a higher price tag for more relief.
House Democrats unveiled their proposal Monday, though House Republicans panned the bill as a “socialist wish list” and said they would oppose it.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Wednesday it would be “outlandish” to think Republicans would be on board with a $2 trillion bill, though he said he and other Republicans want to see relief for Americans.
“I mean we had 52 out of 53 republicans willing to spend roughly a half a trillion dollars,” McConnell added of a scaled-down $300 billion bill that was blocked in the Senate. “The thought that Senate Republicans would go up to 2.2 trillion is outlandish.”
Pelosi said the vote, which was originally planned for Wednesday night, would “formalize our proffer to Republicans in the negotiations.”
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Asked if he would be able to negotiate a deal over $1.5 trillion, Mnuchin said, “We’re going to go back and do a little more work again.”
Many of the benefits Congress approved in the Spring to fight the economic impact of the virus have run out. The $600 federal boost to unemployment benefits halted in July, a loan forgiveness program for small businesses expired, and airlines have warned of mass layoffs as their billions of dollars in federal payroll assistance expire on Oct. 1.
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“Tomorrow, tens of thousands of airline workers will be furloughed if the program is not extended,” said Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio in a statement.
Democrats and Republicans have been unable to agree on a stimulus deal despite months of negotiations. Talks fell apart in August leading President Donald Trump to sign several executive orders on COVID-19 relief. Trump’s orders however, don’t address a number of programs that ended over the summer.
House Democrats’ latest proposal would provide a round of $1,200 relief checks, reauthorize a small-business lending program, bring back the $600 federal boost to the unemployment benefit through January and provide assistance for the airline industry.
The bill includes:
- $225 billion in education funding, with $182 billion for K-12 schools and about $39 billion for post-secondary education.
- $120 billion in grants for restaurants.
- $436 billion in assistance for state, local and tribal governments.
- $75 billion for COVID-19 testing, tracing and isolation measures.
- $15 billion in funding for the U.S. Postal Service.
- Increased food assistance benefits.
Among the sticking points in negotiations has been the amount of the unemployment benefit, which Republicans said could disincentivize work if the amount is too much. Democrats offered $600 in their proposals, whereas Republicans offered $200 and $300 in other proposals.
Both sides also remain far apart on the amount of aid to give to state and local governments. Republicans are wary of adding to the deficit and say the money would bail out mismanaged local governments.
Contributing: Christal Hayes
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