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Pelosi cites 'positive' talk with White House on coronavirus aid, but clock is ticking

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that the recent talks with the White House over emergency coronavirus relief have been "positive" and that she remains hopeful the sides can strike a deal in the coming days.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinBiden's Treasury pick will have lengthy to-do list on taxes On The Money: Initial jobless claims rise for 2nd week | Dow dips below 30K | Mnuchin draws fire for COVID-19 relief move | Manhattan DA appeals dismissal of Manafort charges Mnuchin to put 5B in COVID-19 relief funds beyond successor's reach MORE spoke for almost an hour on Tuesday morning, according to Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill, with another conversation scheduled for Wednesday.

"Our conversation was a positive one," Pelosi said in an interview with MSNBC. "We'll get back together tomorrow to see how we can find common ground." 

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Yet moments before, White House senior economic adviser Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE had rejected the Democrats' most recent offer of $2.2 trillion, warning that it could actually creep higher than advertised. 

"We don't think the numbers are right — $2.2 trillion — which is a very big number," Kudlow told CNBC. "There's some leftover spending that's not included there and some tax cuts that are repealed. It might come to $2.6 trillion."

The comments are some indication of how far apart the sides remain almost eight weeks after an initial round of negotiations broke down over the size and scope of the relief package. 

Pelosi and the Democrats unveiled a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill Monday night, with tentative plans to bring it to a vote before week's end if an agreement with Republicans doesn't materialize before then. That vote has been a priority of moderate Democrats facing tough reelection contests who don't want to leave Washington without acting on another package of emergency aid.

Absent a deal with Republicans, Democrats are likely to stage that vote before the weekend, according to Democratic aides. Yet Pelosi is holding out for a deal before scheduling it. 

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"We're in a negotiation and hopefully we will come to a bipartisan agreement that would remove all doubt that the legislation will be passed and be signed by the president," she said. "That's my goal, that we come to agreement so that we can put money in the pockets of the American people."

The $2.2 trillion figure is down from the Democrats' $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, which passed the House in May. But the lower number largely reflects squeezed timelines for delivering the various benefits, rather than outright cuts in the aid programs themselves.

"When we reduced it, we didn't take out priorities," Pelosi said. "We just reduced the timeline as to how long those benefits would last."

The negotiators don't face any formal deadline, but a number of major airline companies are set to furlough tens of thousands of employees beginning Thursday, when their emergency lifeline from a previous funding package is scheduled to expire. With that in mind, both sides have acknowledged the urgency of getting a deal.

"That's a date certain — Sept. 30. So we want to move quickly on this," Pelosi said.  

"Let's be on the positive side," she added. "The needs are great, and it's just a question of money."