Negotiations on another big U.S. coronavirus-related economic aid package entered what could be their final hours Wednesday, as lawmakers faced the prospect of no deal ahead of threatened large layoffs by airlines.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said early Wednesday he remained hopeful ahead of outlining the administration’s counteroffer to a new $2.2 trillion House Democratic bill unveiled late Monday.
“I say we’re gonna give it one more serious try to get this done, and I think we’re hopeful that we can get something done.” Mnuchin said in an interview on CNBC.
“I think there’s a reasonable compromise here, something that the President very much wants to get done and make sure that we help those parts of the economy that still need need help. So we’re gonna try to see if we can get something passed,” Mnuchin said.
Mnuchin arrived at the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the U.S. Capitol early Wednesday afternoon, the first time the pair have met face to face on another fiscal stimulus bill in weeks after a 50-minute phone call Tuesday.
Still, the counteroffer was set to come as House Democrats were setting up a vote on a slimmed down version of their original sweeping $3.4 trillion coronavirus bill that passed in May which Republicans derided as too expensive.
However, the passage of the bill is seen widely as the likely informal end of talks because it would give Democrats another stimulus vote in Congress they could point out to voters as they hit the election campaign trail, even though the bill would die in the Senate. This week is scheduled to be the last week in Washington until after the November election for House members and possibly the last one for members of the Senate, except for a return to vote on a Supreme Court nominee.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he had told House members to keep their schedules flexible and he also told reporters a vote on what Democrats call the “Heroes 2” bill would not necessarily mean the end of negotiations.
The talks come as extra money on top of state jobless benefits has begun to run out and businesses have exhausted the loans extended under the Paycheck Protection Program. Another program to help airlines retain workers expires Wednesday, leaving airlines to say they will have to furlough workers unless it is renewed. All three programs were part of the CARES Act passed in March.
“Tomorrow, tens of thousands of airline workers will be furloughed if the program is not extended,” said Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of lobbying group Airlines for America.
But the clock is ticking and even if Pelosi and Mnuchin reached an agreement, it is unclear how much appetite or time remains for it to clear the Senate.
“This latest bill from the Speaker is no more serious than any of their other political stunts going back months,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the Senate began business Wednesday. “If they continue to refuse to get serious then American families will continue to hurt.”