In what was apparently one of those white-knuckle deals that hung in the balanced until the last moment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced late Friday that she had reached agreement with the White House on a bill to deal with the immediate economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as the Washington Post reports:
The White House and House Democrats reached agreement Friday on a coronavirus relief package to spend tens of billions of dollars on sick leave, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other measures to address the unfolding crisis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the agreement in a letter to fellow House Democrats. “We are proud to have reached an agreement with the Administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”
A vote to pass the legislation was expected later Friday in the House, and in the Senate next week.
It didn’t look good for much of Friday:
The development came after a roller-coaster day that started with a deal seeming imminent, before it looked like it was unraveling over successive hours. House Republicans voiced concerns and Trump himself voiced opposition, complaining at an afternoon news conference that Democrats were “not doing what’s right for the country.”
There were even reports that the hang-up was Trump’s insistence on a payroll tax cut that Democrats vehemently opposed and most Republicans considered a long-term measure that could be taken up later in the year. But it now seems that Trump’s press conference dismissal of the legislation was just a cover for some last-minute maneuvering between Pelosi and designated administration negotiator and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin:
[B]ehind the scenes, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continued negotiations that began earlier this week, By early Friday evening they had spoken by phone 13 times that day alone.
Pelosi praised the legislation in a televised address Friday afternoon. “Put families first — today, we are passing a bill that does just that,” she said, laying out provisions of the legislation such as free coronavirus testing, paid sick and family leave, and food assistance for poor families.
House Democrats did make some significant concessions after announcing “stimulus” legislation earlier this week:
As originally introduced, the House bill included a $2 billion boost to state unemployment insurance programs, more than $1 billion in nutritional aid, a new paid-leave benefit for employees affected by the outbreak and an increase in federal Medicaid spending, as well as a guarantee of free coronavirus testing.
Republicans viewed the initial legislation as overly broad, and through hours of phone calls and staff-level negotiations Thursday, Pelosi and Mnuchin agreed to narrow the legislation to focus more squarely on impacts from the coronavirus and those hurt by it.
The initial proposals underwent significant changes over the hours of talks, and toward the end negotiators were haggling over a less ambitious proposal for family and medical leave from Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) that would expand the number of workers who can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act while drawing down wage replacement.
A boost in federal Medicaid expenditures House Democrats had proposed was pared back as well, which wasn’t surprising given perpetual Republican efforts to cut the federal-state program that provides health services for lower-income Americans was pared back as well.
Presumably administration support means the Republican-controlled Senate will rubber-stamp the deal when it goes back into session next week.
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