WASHINGTON – Democrats controlling the House narrowly passed a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Thursday night, a move that came as top-level talks on a smaller, potentially bipartisan measure dragged on toward an uncertain finish. An air of pessimism has largely taken over the Capitol.
The Democratic bill passed after a partisan debate by a 214-207 vote without any Republicans in support. The move puts lawmakers no closer to actually delivering aid such as more generous weekly unemployment payments, extended help for small businesses and especially troubled economic sectors such as restaurants and airlines, and another round of $1,200 direct payments to most Americans.
Passage of the $2.2 trillion plan came after a burst of negotiations this week between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. The Trump administration delivered concessions Wednesday, including a $400 per week pandemic jobless benefit and a markedly higher overall price tag of $1.6 trillion, but that failed to win over Pelosi.
“This isn’t half a loaf, this is the heel of the loaf,” Pelosi said in a televised interview Thursday. Pelosi spoke after the White House attacked her as “not being serious."
The ramped-up negotiations come as challenging economic news continues to confront policymakers. The airlines are furloughing about 30,000 workers with the expiration of aid passed earlier this year, and a report Thursday showed 837,000 people claiming jobless benefits for the first time last week. Most of the economic benefits of an immediate round of COVID relief could accrue under the next administration, and failure now could mean no significant help for struggling families and businesses until February.
The vote was advertised as a way to demonstrate Democrats were making a good faith offer on coronavirus relief, but 18 Democrats abandoned the party and sentiment remains among more moderate Democrats to make more concessions and guarantee an agreement before Election Day. Republicans controlling the Senate remained divided.
Talks between Mnuchin and Pelosi were closely held and the Speaker told reporters that no deal would come on Thursday. Mnuchin's offer of a $400 per week jobless benefit put him in the same ballpark as Democrats backing a $600 benefit. Mnuchin's price tag of $1.6 trillion or more could drive many Republicans away, however, even as it failed to satisfy Pelosi.
“We raised our offer to $1.6 trillion," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday. “It’s one that she is is not interested in."