Pelosi warns against ‘poison pills’ as Senate negotiators near a stimulus deal

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday said she’s hopeful Congress can reach on a deal a massive coronavirus relief package by day’s end, but warned that Republican “poison pills” could gum up the process and prompt House Democrats to move their own legislation.

Pelosi said Democrats remain insistent that a $500 billion allotment to help major industries must include greater oversight and transparency, and she hammered GOP leaders for their resistance to including billions of dollars for food stamps.

If Senate and White House negotiators are able to iron out those differences, she said, the House could accept the Senate bill and likely pass it quickly by unanimous consent, allowing the House to remain in recess.

But she warned that she’s ready to call the House back to Washington to move the Democrats’ alternative proposal, unveiled Monday night, if her caucus deems the upper chamber bill too favorable toward corporations while neglecting workers and lower-income families.

“The easiest way to do it is for us to put aside some of our concerns for another day, and get this done,” she said in an interview with CNBC. “If it has poison pills in it — and they know certain things are poison pills — then they don’t want unanimous consent, they just want an ideological statement.”

The comments arrive as Senate leaders are scrambling to secure a bipartisan agreement on a massive package — now approaching $2 trillion — to prop up the sinking U.S. economy amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has led to a sharp spike in unemployment as businesses have been forced to close down, entire industries have scaled back services, and consumers are driven indoors.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) huddled periodically all day Monday to iron out the lingering disagreements, emerging just before midnight to say they’re on the cusp of a deal.

Democrats in both chambers had howled that the Republicans’ opening offer — a $1 trillion package introduced over the weekend — provided a bulk of the benefits to large corporations, leaving affected workers, front line medical personnel, hospitals and low-income families behind. They’ve pressed for tens of billions of dollars to expand unemployment benefits, extend food stamps, provide child care services and shore up state and local governments that are struggling to finance the tsunami of new service requirements.

A major sticking point has been a $500 billion fund, demanded by Republicans, to backstop loans and other guarantees extended to the large industries hit hardest by the crisis, including the airline and cruise line companies. Democrats want strings attached to that lending to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t used for stock buybacks or CEO compensation, and to protect the employees of those companies from being laid off.

Pelosi said Democrats have made “big progress” on those provisions, and she praised the negotiators for adopting the Democrats’ demands that there be oversight over the delivery of that money, including the creation of an independent inspector general to supervise the outlays.

“That’s a big change,” she said.

She also welcomed the Republicans’ concession to include more than $100 billion for a state stabilization fund.

Pelosi did not specify what other remaining provisions might constitute deal-breakers in the eyes of House Democrats. They’ve been pushing a host of provisions resisted by Republicans, including funding to expand paid leave for workers, ensure smooth-running elections in November, and adopt tougher worker safety provisions to protect the medical workers on the front lines of diagnosing and treating the virus. But Pelosi suggested some of the outstanding disagreements could be pushed to the future, when Congress will likely be forced to consider yet another round of relief to tackle both the economic and health effects of the novel pandemic.

“There are some issues that I don’t think are dealbreakers but are of concern to my members,” she said.

Pelosi also stopped short of guaranteeing a deal by the end of the day, deferring to the negotiators.

“Until they have a deal, I can’t announce a deal,” she said. But she said she’s “optimistic’ that an agreement could be finalized “in the next few hours.”

“Overarchingly, I think we’re getting to a good place — if they stay there,” she said.

If Senate leaders and the White House are able to strike a deal on the package on Tuesday, it would set the stage for what would likely be quick passage in the upper chamber, sending it to the House. Pelosi has grappled with the question of whether to call House lawmakers back to Washington to vote on the measure, amid growing concerns about travel, overcrowding, and the acceleration of the virus’s spread. Three lawmakers, two in the House and one in the Senate, have already tested positive, and a number of others have self-quarantined as a precautionary measure.

Pelosi said her preference would be to secure a Senate package that could pass the House by unanimous consent, a procedural move allowing the approval of legislation without forcing lawmakers to vote on the floor. But she left open the option of reconvening the House, either to amend the Senate bill or pass the Democrats’ alternative package, if the Senate proposal falls short of her caucus’s requirements.

“My goal has always been to bring this bill to the floor under unanimous consent, where we’re all in agreement,” she said.

“While we all appreciate the urgency,” she added, “it’s a big responsibility to do it right.”

–This report was updated at 11:21 a.m.

Tags Charles Schumer Coronavirus Nancy Pelosi Steven Mnuchin Stimulus
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