Top House Democrat: Parties ‘much closer’ to a COVID deal ‘than we’ve ever been’
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 Jeffries (D-N.Y.) pointed to recent comments by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin 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.”
After almost two months of stalled talks, Mnuchin and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (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 Hoyer (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.
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.