House set to vote on coronavirus economic relief once Pelosi, Mnuchin cut deal

(WASHINGTON) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were on the verge of an agreement on a stimulus package to respond to the economic impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic late Thursday.

Pelosi had initially expressed a plan to vote earlier in the day saying that she could agree to most of the changes proposed by Mnuchin – the administration’s point man in negotiations.

But negotiations dragged on late into the night — as the two spoke at least eight times throughout the day, according to a Pelosi spokesman, hoping to finalize language for a bill that the House could pass. Pelosi said that she and Mnuchin were “close” to a deal, but needed to trade paperwork for review before putting it to a vote before the full House. After adjourning after 9:15 p.m. Thursday, the House returns to session Friday morning at 9 a.m.

“We’re addressing the realities of life, a family life in America, putting family first,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a news conference at the Capitol. “We’re not planning a schedule or anything else, until we get that — until we get that done,” she said about any decision to possibly delay or cancel the 10-day recess the House was scheduled to begin on Thursday.

Pelosi sent a Dear Colleague letter late Thursday night, characterizing the talks as “near to a bipartisan agreement” while promising to work on a third package that “will take further effective action that protects the health, economic security and well-being of the American people.”

She called the pandemic a “time of crisis,” adding “strong and steady leadership of our Members working together is urgently needed.”

With Pelosi signing off on most of Mnuchin’s recommendations, she signaled she was not concerned that the Senate will make changes to the bill. She said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told her to work it out with Mnuchin, leaving Pelosi with the impression that McConnell would pass the bill if it meets the Treasury secretary’s stamp of approval.

At the same time, as the Senate awaits the House bill, McConnell announced he is canceling the Senate recess period next week, while letting senators return home to their states for the weekend before the House votes. The Senate returns to session on Monday at 3 p.m.

“Notwithstanding the scheduled state work period, the Senate will be in session next week,” McConnell, R-Ky., tweeted. “I am glad talks are ongoing between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi. I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said McConnell’s decision was “so wrong” to let senators leave instead of working through the weekend.

“The Speaker is still negotiating with (Secretary) Mnuchin. The House hasn’t even sent a bill over and Leader McConnell sends everybody home during a crisis. That is so wrong,” Schumer told reporters Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill.

House Democrats released the initial text of a bill late Wednesday night that includes food security assistance, paid sick leave, emergency unemployment insurance and language to ensure the cost of testing is covered for anyone who needs one. The package as proposed by Democrats did not include a payroll tax cut that President Donald Trump wanted.

“We’re dealing with the Democrats in Congress and we’ll see what can be done. I happen to think that a payroll tax cut would be a very good idea,” Trump said Thursday.

As Trump seemed to concede that the payroll tax cut won’t be included, he claimed Democrats had included provisions that “have nothing to do with what we’re talking about.”

“So, you know, it’s not a way for them to get some of the goodies that they haven’t been able to get for the last 25 years,” he said.

Pelosi said members would not leave until they passed a bill.

“I don’t think we would wait until there’s a signed bill,” Pelosi continued. “We will do our work, as I said, sensitive to changes that have been suggested. I don’t think they’re unreasonable.”

The bill first proposed by Democrats has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, so there’s not a clear price tag for the package — leading many Republicans to balk at the proposal.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the bill “comes up short,” adding he’s also working with the White House and Pelosi to “get this right.”

“Under Pelosi’s bill, the Social Security Administration would be set up to administer the paid sick leave program,” McCarthy, R-Calif., explained. “Not only would this take six months to start distributing checks, it would strain their ability to administer social security benefits. This will hurt the very population who is most at risk of this disease.”

After announcing he opposed the Democratic bill, McCarthy said he thinks Congress should stay in session until a bill to respond to economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic is approved. He predicted a more comprehensive bill could come together in the next 24-48 hours.

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