House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats and White House officials are drawing closer to striking a coronavirus relief deal, but negotiators have still not solved two of the most contentious issues: state and local funding and liability protections for businesses.
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"They still haven't completely signed off on it," Pelosi told reporters. "But I think we're just about there."
After months of negotiations, both sides have indicated they would like to finalize a deal by the end of the week, although it's unclear whether it could be passed before the Nov. 3 election. Pelosi spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the top negotiator for the Trump administration, three times this week and is slated to do so again on Thursday.
"I’m pleased at where we are now. If we can resolve some of these things in the next few days, it’ll take a while to write the bill," Pelosi said. "I’d hope that we could be writing starting now, and we are putting pen to paper, sort of easier parts of the bill. It’s close."
But major obstacles remain, including aid for state and local governments, liability protections for businesses and growing dissent among Senate Republicans, who have balked at passing a multitrillion-dollar aid package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also emerged as a hurdle in negotiations, privately urging the White House not to settle with Pelosi before the election amid concerns it could interfere with the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, two sources told Fox News.
On Wednesday, McConnell brought to the floor a $500 billion package, roughly one-third of the $1.8 trillion proposal offered by the White House. Senate Democrats blocked the bill, which would have expanded unemployment benefits, extended the Paycheck Protection Program and provided aid to hospitals and schools.
For months, Congress has struggled to reach an agreement on another round of emergency relief for families and businesses — negotiations first collapsed in early August, prompting Trump to sign four executive measures intended to provide relief to families still reeling from the virus-induced crisis, including temporarily extending supplemental jobless aid at $300 a week.
But that aid is beginning to expire, and lifelines that propped up the economy in the early weeks of the pandemic — like the $670 billion Paycheck Protection Program, a one-time $1,200 stimulus check and sweetened unemployment benefits — lapsed months ago.