Democrats and Republicans appeared even further away from a coronavirus relief deal on Thursday, despite mounting calls from rank-and-file lawmakers — and even President Donald Trump — for action.
With no mood for deal-making in either party, the House and Senate are leaving for the weekend with no progress on an agreement, casting further doubt that Congress can muster the political will to adopt another massive economic stimulus measure before the November election.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Democrats could push for more federal spending than their last offer of $2.2 trillion. Pelosi told reporters that the need for relief — from restaurants to airlines — has “only grown” since the House passed a bill in May.
“Since that time, my members will attest, the needs have only grown since May 15, four months ago,” Pelosi said, referring to the day Democrats passed their own sprawling $3.4 trillion package. “The needs for the small businesses, for the restaurants, for transportation and the rest.”
And Senate Republicans have shown no appetite for moving beyond the $650 billion relief package they tried to push through the Senate last week, which was rejected by Democrats as woefully inadequate to meet the health care and economic crises facing the United States.
“I think that, my personal opinion, not much is going to happen between now and the election,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.).
Pressure had been building on Pelosi to change course this week, with centrist Democrats aggressively pushing party leadership to vote on more relief bills. Some argued that Pelosi should accept a lower offer from the GOP to deliver at least some aid before the election.
But a surprise tweet from Trump on Wednesday — urging his own party to “go higher” on spending — shook up the political calculations on Capitol Hill. Democrats said it only emboldened Pelosi to hold out for the kind of package she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have been demanding all summer.
Senate Republicans were unmoved by Trump’s call for a larger stimulus package, instead reiterating support for the plan that was blocked by Democrats last week.
Pelosi and other top Democrats also remained dug in on Thursday, once again ripping the Senate GOP’s bill and showing no signs of shifting strategies.
“Democrats in the House and Senate will keep fighting for a comprehensive plan that meets the needs of all of those who have been hurt,” Schumer told reporters.
Pelosi also dismissed a question about moderate Democrats pushing for a narrower relief package, telling reporters “they don’t say it to me.”
Moderate Democrats have in fact been raising their concerns to Pelosi and other leaders in recent weeks, including a private meeting Wednesday evening at which several centrist Democrats repeated their calls to vote on more relief before adjourning to campaign. Pelosi restated in that meeting that she is still pushing for a deal, but she did not agree to consider additional bills on the floor and said Democrats needed to remain firm in their demands.
And the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus put out its own potential compromise earlier this week — a relief proposal that was swiftly dismissed by Pelosi’s chairmen in a joint statement.
Some senior Democratic aides brushed off the current logjam — both between congressional leaders and within the House Democratic Caucus — saying there is still time to reach a coronavirus deal in the coming weeks before the House leaves for recess.
Still, several moderate Democrats were privately fuming on Thursday, describing Pelosi's suggestion that Congress may need to approve even more for airline and restaurant money as moving the goal posts — just as Trump started to move in their direction.
Many lawmakers say they're running out of options to forge a compromise, with their bipartisan proposal dismissed this week and Democratic leaders continuing to reject calls to stay in town through October to vote on more bills.
“Quite simply, it'll be a stain on this institution, on 1600 Pennsylvania," Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said, when asked about the prospects of Congress leaving without progress on a deal this week.
Phillips, part of the Problem Solvers group, said he and his colleagues would still push for a vote on their proposal, despite the pushback from senior Democrats: "We created a framework that is reasonable, which is not easy to do in this culture or atmosphere."
The House and Senate each have few days left in session before the election, with a to-do list that also includes funding the federal government.
The House is on track to pass a stopgap spending bill early next week to avert a shutdown Sept. 30. After that, there will be space to focus more on coronavirus talks, Democratic aides have said.
But some Democrats privately worry the House could actually leave town next week without a deal — a week earlier than planned — since they are no longer expected to vote on a controversial bill to decriminalize marijuana in the federal level. Instead, they fear they'll be sent back to their districts, where they'll remain on notice to return in the unlikely event that a deal is reached.
The Senate, too, could adjourn earlier than planned.
"We don’t have much time to get this done,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters Thursday, as the Senate prepared to leave town.