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Pelosi: Democrats open to tweaking virus bill, but won't wait long for GOP backing

Pelosi: Democrats open to tweaking virus bill, but won't wait long for GOP backing
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Budget Committee chair pledges to raise minimum wage: 'Hold me to it' Capitol review to recommend adding more fencing, 1,000 officers: report MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday that Democrats are open to amending their legislation to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus turmoil, but warned that she won't wait for Republicans to get on board.

"I don't want to stick around because they don't want to agree to language," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol.

"Everybody could have a complaint about this or that," she added. "Save it for another day."

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The remarks both highlight the significant leverage the majority House Democrats have in the coronavirus debate and signal that Pelosi is not backing down from her initial plan to pass a relief bill through the House and then recess the lower chamber, putting enormous pressure on the Senate to act.

"I don't think we would wait until there's a signed bill," she said. "We will have done our work, and we hope that that would be an incentive for the Senate to move quickly."

Pelosi has been negotiating the second round of coronavirus relief with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Mnuchin expected to launch investment fund seeking backing from Persian Gulf region: report Larry Kudlow debuts to big ratings on Fox Business Network MORE for much of the week in search of a bipartisan deal that can move through the Republican-controlled Senate. The pair spoke again by phone Thursday morning, with Mnuchin suggesting amendments to the Democrats' proposal. As a sign that an agreement is in reach, Pelosi characterized those changes as "all very reasonable."

"I think that none of them would prevent us from moving forward with the bill," she said.

But GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are balking at the Democrats' bill, largely over provisions to expand paid leave for workers affected by the coronavirus — a benefit long-opposed by business-friendly Republicans in Congress.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars McCarthy: No commitment from Trump to not target Republicans MORE (R-Calif.) said Thursday that the package "comes up short," citing concerns that the proposal to extend paid sick leave through the Social Security Administration creates bureaucratic hurdles that would inhibit the release of the benefits.

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"This will hurt the very population, it's supposed to be helping," he said, suggesting the sides could reach an agreement within 24 to 48 hours.

Pelosi, however, dismissed those criticisms, noting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Hawley gets boisterous ovation at CPAC for Electoral College objection   Why Congress must invoke the 14th Amendment now MORE (R-Ky.) has ceded the negotiations to Mnuchin. Indeed, House Democrats could easily pass their favored legislation without any GOP support, though Pelosi insisted the goal is to move legislation that can become law.

"Leader McConnell asked me to work with Secretary Mnuchin. We are. He had his concerns, we're addressing them," she said. "I hope they don't move the goalposts."

"We don't need 48 hours," she added. "We need to just make a decision to help families right now."

Released late Wednesday night, the Democrats' proposals is designed to ease the financial strains on those most directly affected by the coronavirus — both patients and those who miss work or lose their jobs as a result of the economic fallout.

The proposal would guarantee free testing for the virus, expand unemployment insurance, extend paid sick leave and provide meals to low-income children who might otherwise go hungry due to school closures.

It follows another coronavirus package, adopted last week, that provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding, largely dedicated to filling the immediate health needs brought about by the pandemic.

Pelosi on Thursday said time is of the essence.

"It's like the house is on fire," she said.

"We can have an altercation review about how we got into this situation," she added. "Save it for another day."