Earlier this week, the word in Washington was that if stimulus talks didn’t immediately resume, House Democrats would pass a bill encompassing their latest $2.2 trillion proposal and then go home to hit the campaign trail. They did resume, as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (this time without White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tagging along) went to see Nancy Pelosi with a $1.6 trillion “counter-proposal” in hand. But despite some positive noises from both sides, there was no quick deal and the House went ahead with its vote late last night. The Democratic bill (which some called “skinny HEROES” in reference to both the earlier $3.4 trillion HEROES Act and the Senate’s miserly “skinny stimulus” proposal) passed without any Republican votes and with 20 Democrats defecting — some complained that Pelosi should have accepted Mnuchin’s offer.
But the morning after, with House members impatiently packing for trips home, the Mnuchin-Pelosi talks have apparently gone into overtime, with Pelosi in particular offering mixed signals about the likelihood of a deal. This upbeat statement (as reported by CNBC) could also be interpreted as an insult to the White House:
“This kind of changes the dynamic because here [Republicans] see the reality of what we have been saying all along. This is a vicious virus,” the California Democrat told MSNBC, adding that she would pray for the president’s safety.
Pelosi also threw a curve by suggesting that, if a deal isn’t cut, she might move on a freestanding airline bill, as The Wall Street Journal explains:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the House will move forward with aid for airline workers as its own piece of legislation or as part of a broader coronavirus relief deal, as Democrats and the Trump administration continued to negotiate.
The California Democrat called on airlines to delay job cuts as Congress crafted the legislation. Mrs. Pelosi had previously resisted embracing a narrower bill focused on individual industries, instead arguing for a broader agreement that included jobless aid, money for states and cities, and other priorities….
This week, American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. said they would go forward with a total of more than 32,000 job cuts after lawmakers were unable to agree on a broad coronavirus-relief package.
That move could be interpreted as either an expression of confidence in the broader negotiations (Pelosi has such a strong hand that she requires no further leverage), or as a step to help a particularly distressed industry just before shutting down negotiations until after the elections.
Though the particular points of contention between Pelosi and Mnuchin are well-known, where they are in the chess game is unclear. Some reports suggest the White House is willing to accept only $250 billion in state and local assistance, while others indicate they’re moving much closer to Pelosi on that, and there are complex discussions of arcane tax provisions as well.
It’s not over until it’s over, and whatever else is happening, Pelosi seems inclined to extend the deadline for wrapping up — so long as the White House is still making concessions. My theory is that the president wants the second round of $1200 stimulus checks to go out in time to affect the election, and that Pelosi knows he can just taste it. But Pelosi also knows Trump has been losing on the COVID-19 issue (long before his own positive test) and that she can get a much better bill from a Democratic president and White House in January, if she is both patient and lucky.