Sat, 31 Oct 2020

WASHINGTON - Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are working on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package that could be voted on next week, a key lawmaker said Thursday, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated that she is ready to negotiate with the White House.

With formal COVID-19 relief talks stalled for nearly seven weeks, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said new legislative efforts got under way this week after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in congressional testimony that lawmakers needed to provide further support for an economy reeling from the pandemic.

"The contours are already there. I think now it's about time frame and things like that," Neal told reporters when asked about the potential for new legislation.

He predicted a vote could come within days.

"I assume, since the House is scheduled to break for the election cycle, then I think next week's ... appropriate," said Neal, adding that Pelosi would determine when a legislative package might be introduced.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed the new initiative as partisan. Pelosi also faces pressure from moderate House Democrats who say they want to see bipartisan aid proposals that have a chance of becoming law.

"If it's a messaging exercise, it's worthless," Rep. Dean Phillips, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota, told CNN. He said the effort risked looking like Senate Republicans who had unsuccessfully pushed their own partisan coronavirus aid bill.

"Many of us are getting sick of that," Phillips said.

Stocks reacting positively to the announcements from Congress, with the S&P reaching a session high shortly after, before paring some gains.

Formal talks between Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows broke down without a deal on August 7, with the two sides far apart. Pelosi and Mnuchin have since spoken by phone.

"We're ready for negotiation," Pelosi told reporters Thursday, saying she had last spoken to Mnuchin on Wednesday.

Pelosi and Schumer, who initially sought a $3.4 trillion relief package, have since scaled back their demands to $2.2 trillion. Neal said a new legislative package would be somewhere near $2.2 trillion. Some media reports said it could be $2.4 trillion.

But it was not clear whether the White House would agree to such a sum. Meadows has said that Trump would be willing to sign a $1.3 trillion relief package.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, who have not been involved directly in the negotiations, initially proposed a $1 trillion bill, which was rejected by many Republicans who thought it too large and by Senate Democrats who said it was too small.

Senate Republicans later tried and failed to bring a smaller $300 billion bill to the floor.

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