WASHINGTON - After months of discussion and negotiation, Democrats and the White House are expected to decide Tuesday whether passage of a coronavirus stimulus package is still possible this month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters she is optimistic, saying the administration's latest proposal for coronavirus testing and contract tracing is more in line with Democrats'. But she noted that major issues remain unresolved and that even if an agreement is reached soon, direct payments to Americans struggling amid the pandemic won't reach households in time to help with November bills.
Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin have struggled to reach a deal with numerous meetings and phone calls since July, including an hourlong conversation Monday. But both sides indicated in recent days they've begun narrowing the gap between their positions. Over the weekend, Pelosi set a Tuesday deadline, saying if the structure of a deal is not in place by then, a package is not likely before the election.
"Hopefully by the end of the day today we'll know where we all are," Pelosi told Bloomberg TV. "We are on a path. You have to be optimistic. As the secretary and I say to each other, if we didn't believe we could get this done, why would we even talk?"
Details of a plan remain sketchy, but it is expected to include another direct payment to individuals, a revamped Paycheck Protection Program to provide more loans to small businesses, money to help schools safely reopen and additional funding for testing. Pelosi indicated in the Bloomberg interview that Democrats may have to back away from their demand for extra money to help state governments conduct the 2020 election during the health crisis.
Pelosi said there is still no agreement on two of the biggest sticking points: how much funding the federal government should provide to state and local governments struggling with a drop in tax revenue, and which businesses should be shielded from liability if customers or employees contract the coronavirus.
Trump initially said he wouldn't go beyond a $1.8 trillion package, but said Tuesday he could support a package topping Democrats' demands of $2.2 trillion.
"The government - we get the money back - it gets the money back anyway, and it's better than unemployment and all the costs associated with the alternative," he said.
Trump has insisted that Republicans will "come along" once a deal with Democrats is reached, but it is still unclear whether any deal negotiated by Democrats and the Trump administration could get approval in the GOP-led Senate.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., said his staff is working with Mnuchin to craft language for a bill, but he was pessimistic that a deal is possible this week.
"You never know what's going to happen around here at the last minute, but it's getting to be toward the last minute and the clock keeps ticking away," Shelby said. "I'm not optimistic about doing anything."
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is tasked with counting votes in the Senate, told reporters he doubted whether there would be enough Republican support to pass such a large package, even if all Democrats voted in favor.
Senate Republicans have been unable to cobble together the 60 votes needed to pass any major aid package since Congress passed the $1.8 trillion CARES Act in March. The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday and Wednesday on smaller GOP economic aid packages. They are not part of the broader negotiations, and both Trump and Democrats have dismissed them as too small.
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