Top House Democrat: Parties 'much closer' to a COVID deal 'than we've ever been'

Top House Democrat: Parties 'much closer' to a COVID deal 'than we've ever been'
© Bonnie Cash

The head of the House Democratic Caucus said Wednesday that the negotiators seeking an emergency coronavirus deal are "much closer" to a deal than they have been at any point during the long weeks of on-again-off-again talks.

Rep. Hakeem JeffriesHakeem Sekou JeffriesDemocrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor Frederica Wilson rails against Haitian deportation flights, calls treatment 'inhumane' Pelosi signals she won't move .5T bill without Senate-House deal MORE (D-N.Y.) pointed to recent comments by Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks Former Treasury secretaries tried to resolve debt limit impasse in talks with McConnell, Yellen: report Menendez, Rubio ask Yellen to probe meatpacker JBS MORE indicating a willingness to embrace $1.5 trillion in new stimulus spending — a number on par with the bipartisan relief package offered last week by the Problem Solvers Caucus — noting that that figure is far closer to the Democrats' $2.2 trillion package than Republicans have previously backed.

"If you look at the Problem Solvers proposal, at the high end it's approximately $2 trillion," Jeffries told reporters in the Capitol. "And so I think that to the extent that Secretary Mnuchin has indicated that he will use the Problem Solver proposal as a basis for any counteroffer actually brings us much closer to an agreement than we've ever been."

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After almost two months of stalled talks, Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Pelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) have resumed the negotiations this week by phone. In some sign that progress is being made, Mnuchin is expected to huddle with Pelosi in the Speaker's office at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, according to a source familiar with the gathering.

It marks the first in-person meeting between the pair on COVID-19 aid since the initial talks on another relief package broke down on Aug. 7.

Even as the talks seem to be bearing some fruit, Democratic leaders are also readying a floor vote Wednesday afternoon on their $2.2 trillion partisan package — a vote demanded for weeks by a number of moderate Democrats leery of leaving Washington to face voters without acting on some new round of emergency aid.

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol House Democrats set 'goal' to vote on infrastructure, social spending package next week Holding back on defensive systems for Israel could have dangerous consequences MORE (D-Md.), who has urged such a vote for weeks, told reporters Wednesday morning that Democrats would scrap that plan and vote on a bipartisan deal instead if such an agreement were to emerge following the talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin.

"If we have a bipartisan deal ... that is what we will move," Hoyer said on a press call.

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Hoyer added that, absent that deal, the vote on the $2.2 trillion Democratic bill is no indication that the talks with the White House would end.

"If we do this bill, and it passes the House as I think it will, that does not mean that negotiations are over," he said.

Scott Wong contributed.