Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Job openings jump to record high of 8.1 million | Wyden opposes gas tax hike | Airlines feel fuel crunch Pelosi: House Democrats want to make child tax credit expansion permanent Pelosi announces change to House floor mask rules MORE (D-Calif.) took a remarkable step this week in shifting tactics to begin drafting a new partisan package of coronavirus relief.

But the same moderate Democrats she’s aiming to appease with the $2.4 trillion proposal want something more: a guarantee they’ll get to vote on it.

“They haven’t committed to a vote yet,” said Rep. Max RoseMax RoseOvernight Defense: Austin takes helm at Pentagon | COVID-19 briefing part of Day 1 agenda | Outrage over images of National Guard troops in parking garage Austin sworn in as nation's first Black Pentagon chief We lost in November — we're proud we didn't take corporate PAC money MORE (D), a vulnerable first-tem New York lawmaker who flipped a GOP seat in 2018. “I’m certainly not satisfied until they do.”


The comments highlight the challenge facing Pelosi and her leadership team, who are fighting to win an agreement with the White House on emergency COVID-19 aid while also seeking to protect vulnerable centrists wary of leaving Washington without acting on some new relief package.

Pelosi had held firm to her demand for at least $2.2 trillion in new stimulus spending — a figure well below the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act that House Democrats passed in May — even after negotiations with the White House broke down in early August. In doing so, she resisted the pleas of impatient moderates in her caucus calling to move a fresh package while the bipartisan talks were stalled.

On Thursday, as the grumbling from moderates grew louder, Pelosi relented, asking the heads of key committees to assemble a Democratic proposal reflecting the party’s priorities in addressing the health and economic wreckage caused by the deadly pandemic.

But party leaders, still hoping for a bipartisan deal, have not promised a vote on the package before the House recesses on Friday for the final stretch of campaigning.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse fails to pass drug bill amid Jan. 6 tensions Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP House Democrats eye vote next week to form Jan. 6 commission MORE (D-Md.) has for weeks endorsed the notion of voting on a Democratic bill if no deal emerges with the White House. On Thursday, however, he said there’s no formal plan to bring the nascent partisan package to the floor, citing a preference for a bipartisan agreement before the end of next week.

“I don’t have an expectation at this point in time because our focus is we want to get a deal or an agreement with Mnuchin and the Senate. ... We want a bill passed and signed,” Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol, referring to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE. “So that’s what our focus is, trying to get an agreement before we go home."


Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke several times this week about COVID-19 relief, including a phone call on Friday afternoon. “The two agreed to continue their conversation in the days ahead,” said a Pelosi spokesman.

The new Democratic package is expected to include all the major elements of the HEROES Act: another round of stimulus checks for most Americans; more money for unemployment insurance, rental assistance, food stamps and the Postal Service; and billions more for medical equipment and coronavirus testing.

"We're heading toward a resurgence of the virus in the fall, and until we defeat the virus, you're not going to have full economic recovery," said Rep. Richard NealRichard Edmund NealGAO report finds maternal mortality rates higher in rural, underserved areas On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms MORE (D-Mass.), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee and is drafting large parts of the package. "That's what this is about."

The proposal will also include provisions not found in the HEROES legislation, including funds for the Paycheck Protection Program to prop up small businesses and emergency aid for the restaurant and airline industries.

Airline CEOs and union leaders, lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol this week, said they need $25 billion more in aid to stave off tens of thousands of layoffs that are set to occur at the end of the month; relief for airlines has been a priority for the White House.

"We're putting airlines in," said Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioBiden's infrastructure plan builds a stronger foundation for seniors Hillicon Valley: DOJ to review cyber challenges | Gaetz, House Republicans want to end funding for postal service surveillance | TikTok gets new CEO On The Trail: Census data kicks off the biggest redistricting fight in American history MORE (D-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

With the number of U.S. coronavirus deaths topping 200,000 — and unemployment filings still at record highs — rank-and-file Democrats cheered the arrival of the new proposal in hopes that it might pressure Republicans to endorse an agreement that can become law.

"The key thing is that people keep negotiating," said Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesHouse panel spars over GameStop frenzy, trading apps COVID-19 could complicate Pelosi's path to Speaker next year Democrats debate fate of Trump probes if Biden wins MORE (D-Conn.), former head of the New Democrat Coalition. "And it sounds to me like putting some meat on the bones of $2.2 trillion is a pretty good negotiating tactic."

On Friday, the Capitol took a brief pause from the presidential campaign and the fight over COVID-19 aid to remember the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgCourt watchers buzz about Breyer's possible retirement Five hot-button issues Biden didn't mention in his address to Congress Schumer waiting for recommendation on Supreme Court expansion MORE, who became the first woman to lie in state in the building.

But moderates were determined to keep the heat on Pelosi heading into the weekend. Vulnerable first-term Rep. Cindy AxneCindy AxneOn The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to 498K, hitting new post-lockdown low | House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Rural Democrats urge protections from tax increases for family farms Business groups target moderate Democrats on Biden tax plans MORE (D-Iowa), who flipped a GOP-held seat in 2018, penned a letter to Pelosi on Friday beseeching the Speaker to bring “a revised and streamlined COVID-19 relief package to the floor next week.”

The letter was signed by several other at-risk first-term Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Angie Craig (Minn.), Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerGOP hammers Democrats over Iowa Democrat's election challenge Chamber of Commerce slams GOP effort to challenge Biden's win Iowa losses underscore Democrats' struggles with attracting rural voters MORE (Iowa), Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasHouse Democrats hit Republicans on mobile billboard at GOP retreat House votes to extend ban on fentanyl-like substances House Republicans pressuring Democrats to return donations from Ocasio-Cortez MORE (N.H.) and Susan WildSusan WildTime to prioritize the mental health of our frontline health care heroes Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions House Democrats push Biden's Pentagon pick on civilian control of military MORE (Pa.).

“Americans are counting on us; they cannot wait any longer,” the Democrats wrote. “We are asking you to bring up a bill that demonstrates our commitment to meeting [the White House and Senate] in the middle, as we have expressed our willingness to do, and advance it through the House with the haste this crisis demands.”


But the letter highlighted a small fissure among vulnerable moderates. The Axne group told Pelosi it wanted a vote “regardless if the White House or Senate agree.”

“We must show the American people that the House of Representatives is open to negotiations and clear in our resolve to deliver aid for millions in need,” they wrote.

Another group of moderates — led by Problem Solvers Caucus Co-Chairman Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerPolice reform talks ramp up amid pressure from Biden, families The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to take stock, revive push for big government As Americans struggle, Biden's tax plan helps blue states and foreign nations MORE (D-N.J.), Rep. Abigail SpanbergerAbigail Davis SpanbergerFive takeaways on the House's return to budget earmarks Lawmakers say companies need to play key role in sustainability On The Money: Weekly jobless claims fall to lowest level since lockdowns | Retail sales surge in March | Dow, S&P hit new records MORE (D-Va.) and Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsMinnesota takes joy in beating New York for last House seat Bold leadership is necessary to curb violence against youth Democrat Rita Hart withdraws challenge in Iowa House race MORE (D-Minn.) — wrote separately to Pelosi that a partisan, show vote just won’t cut it. They want a vote on a bipartisan “compromise” that is  “reasonable and that can be signed into law by the President of the United States.”

“Lives and livelihood are at stake and the window of opportunity is closing,” Phillips told The Hill. “America has rarely required its Congress to find common ground as it does now, and I implore that we meet the moment.”