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Pelosi, White House Eye Smaller Coronavirus Aid Deal

Michael Rainey

Glimmers of hope emerged Wednesday for progress on a new coronavirus relief package. Negotiations have been deadlocked for nearly two weeks, with Democratic and Republican negotiators still at least $1 trillion apart in their proposals. 

With House Democrats returning to Washington from their summer break for a vote Saturday on a $25 billion bill that would boost funding for the U.S. Postal Service and beef up delivery of first-class mail, including the millions of ballots that will be sent by mail in the upcoming election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) indicated that Democrats might be willing to pare back their demands in order to cut a deal now and then consider another package after the November elections. 

The Trump administration, meanwhile, is saying it would be open to a narrower deal. 

“I think the outlook for a skinny deal is better than it’s ever been, and yet we are still not there,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters on Wednesday. “If Speaker Pelosi moves forward a single bill on postal ... let’s add in the things we can agree upon.” 

Democrats looking to expand Postal Service bill: Led by members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition, a group of 117 House Democrats sent a letter to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) requesting that the post office bill include new funding for unemployment benefits. The letter calls for the House to consider the Worker Relief and Security Act, which would extend a $600 per week federal boost to jobless benefits for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, and revise the unemployment system by linking it to national and local unemployment rates. 

The White House said Wednesday that it would consider the Democrats’ bill, as long as additional relief provisions are included. “We’re certainly open to looking at the $25 billion, but we want included in there relief for the American people,” White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said. 

A new Republican bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed doubts Tuesday about the House plan for the post office. "I don't think we’ll pass, in the Senate, a Postal-only bill," he told the Louisville Courier Journal. But Republicans are reportedly working on a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill that would cost about $500 billion and would omit some provisions that negotiators have been unable to agree on, such as student loan relief and aid to states and cities. A draft bill circulated by Senate Republicans would provide enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week through December, more aid for small businesses and protections for businesses from Covid-related lawsuits. It would also provide $10 billion for the Postal Service by converting an existing loan into a grant. 

Pelosi may alter her stance. The draft Republican bill is far smaller than the $3.5 trillion package passed by the House in May, and well below the $2 trillion that Democratic leaders have cited as a minimum during the negotiations. But Pelosi suggested Tuesday that she might agree to a smaller relief package in order to get funds for the Postal Service and a new round of unemployment payments, while postponing other major parts of the relief package until January, after the election. 

Saying she didn’t want the relief package to clash with potentially contentious government funding negotiations in September, Pelosi told Politico that, “We have to try to come to that agreement now. We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now. We’ll take it up again in January. We’ll see them again in January. But for now, we can cut the bill in half.” 

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