“Time is of the essence, and the House will move swiftly to protect public health and provide relief for the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement Wednesday.
Each House committee will submit their own plans to Pelosi, who will compile a large-scale relief package in the coming days. Pelosi and her top deputies plan to review the ideas with Democrats — who are working from their districts this week — on a conference call Thursday afternoon.
Democratic sources cautioned, however, that their proposal won’t be formally finished until next week. And it’s still unclear if Pelosi intends to bring the House back to vote or just use the Democratic initiative as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Senate and President Donald Trump.
At times, the call showed the stress facing even lawmakers, as they attempt to hammer out next steps: Pelosi and House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), for instance, had a tense exchange during the call over whether the 2008 Wall Street bailout focused too heavily on big banks and not enough on average Americans, a point both lawmakers made, according to multiple sources who were listening. A source close to Pelosi downplayed the exchange.
Pelosi’s move comes as House Democrats have essentially been locked out of high-stakes negotiations over the so-called “Phase 3” coronavirus relief package. The White House — through Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — and top Senate Republicans are rushing to draft a trillion-dollar measure that will help keep airlines and small businesses afloat. Mnuchin and Senate Republicans are also considering a $500 billion plan to send direct cash payments to millions of Americans.
The Kentucky Republican is hoping to unveil a GOP position on this new package as early as Thursday, and then enter into discussions with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Senate Democrats have floated their own $750 billion economic package that includes hundreds of billions in spending to help Americans in economic distress.
McConnell has made clear he wants to deal with Schumer alone, not both Democratic leaders.
“I anticipate what I’ve said repeatedly, which is we’re in a process of deciding exactly where we are and where the administration is — and then we obviously intend to sit down with Sen. Schumer,” McConnell told CNN. “And I’m sure he will keep the speaker in the loop and we’ll move to getting a bipartisan agreement.”
Speaking to her leadership team, Pelosi argued that the “fastest way to get a third package finished by early next week” is for all four senior congressional leaders to sit down and negotiate together, according to an aide on the call. Schumer also made the same argument on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Pelosi is in a race against time as McConnell and GOP leaders have vowed to move the third tranche of recovery legislation through the Senate at “warp speed.” McConnell needs 60 votes to pass any legislation, and House Democrats are concerned he could pick off some Senate Democrats and move a bill through that chamber that they don’t support — leaving them in a difficult position both politically and policy wise.
Pelosi spoke to both Mnuchin and McConnell separately on Tuesday about the next package. But McConnell has rejected Pelosi’s idea of a “four corners” negotiation that includes the quartet of party leaders in both chambers. Schumer has also called for a “four corners” negotiation.
Democratic sources with knowledge of Pelosi’s move said it’s important that they lay down a marker of what proposals the House will and won’t accept, even if they’re not directly in the room with McConnell.
Even Senate Democrats have complained that they’ve been boxed out of the talks in the early stages of legislation that is likely to exceed a trillion dollars.