USA

Pelosi and Mnuchin restart negotiations on last-chance COVID-19 stimulus

WASHINGTON — Feverish negotiations are underway behind closed doors between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on another coronavirus aid package after months of inaction.

Mnuchin reportedly offered a $1.6 trillion rescue package during a meeting Wednesday after talks between the pair broke down in August, leaving tens of millions in limbo during a historic recession which has sent the US economy in a tailspin.

Included in the offer is $250 billion for state and local governments and a $400-per-week boost to federal unemployment, lasting until Jan. 1, 2020, according to a Roll Call report.

It is still far less than the $2.2 trillion in relief that Pelosi (D. Calif) is seeking, in particular a $500 billion provision for states to fund essential services like teachers, firefighters and public transit.

Both sides are under mounting pressure to pass another round of aid following a months-long impasse, and with just 33 days until the election, time is running out.

Two major US airlines began furloughing more than 32,000 workers on Thursday as federal funding to keep them on the payroll ran out and the industry’s pleas for more relief went unanswered.

Democrats in the House in May passed a generous $3.4 trillion aid package but Republicans balked at the large price tag and have refused to budge from their much slimmer $1 trillion counter-offer.

Talks between the powerful speaker and secretary restarted this week via daily phone calls but the two are still far apart and hopes are fading that more urgently needed aid will be passed before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Lawmakers facing tough re-election fights are also eager to leave Washington to start campaigning in their districts.

After hours of negotiations with Mnuchin, Pelosi told House Democratic lawmakers in a call Thursday that Republicans don’t “share our values,” and was pessimistic they could clinch a deal, per a Politico report.

The sticking points appear to be both how much is allocated for state and local aid, and the GOP’s demand for liability protections for businesses and schools as workers and students return.

Pelosi’s spokesman Drew Hammill said the pair would continue speaking later Thursday but that “distance on key areas remain.”

During a White House briefing, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Pelosi wasn’t being “serious” about making a deal.

“We raised our offer to $1.6 trillion,” she said. “It is a good proposal but is one she is not interested in.”

The House may begin voting on their $2.2 trillion aid bill on Thursday evening if the chief negotiators are unable to clinch a deal, but the package will likely be dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

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