The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Stimulus talks set to resume in Washington, but Pelosi and McConnell are at odds again

Pelosi insists Democrats still want robust plan to ‘crush the virus,’ while McConnell calls for smaller package

House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that the notion of a smaller relief package does not appeal to her. (Al Drago/Getty Images)
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) clashed Friday over the contours of a new economic relief bill, with McConnell saying it should be narrow and targeted and Pelosi flatly rejecting that approach.

Their comments came as lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol next week for Congress’s post-election lame-duck session. Washington could be on the verge of a seismic shift in power as final votes are being tallied in the presidential election, but the dynamics around economic relief talks that have sputtered on and off for months do not appear to have changed.

McConnell dug in Friday on his call for a narrow relief bill, pointing to a new jobs report that showed the unemployment rate had fallen to 6.9 percent in October, down from nearly 15 percent in April. McConnell said this is evidence that only limited additional federal intervention is needed. McConnell looks likely to maintain his role as majority leader in the new Congress after Democrats failed to take control of the Senate, although that outcome will not be certain until two runoffs in Georgia in early January. Pelosi will continue as speaker but preside over a smaller majority based on Tuesday’s election results.

“Our economy is really moving to get back on its feet. That I think clearly ought to affect what size of any rescue package we additionally do,” McConnell said at a news conference in Kentucky. “I do think we need another one, but I think it reinforces the argument that I’ve been making for the last few months that something smaller — rather than throwing another $3 trillion at this issue — is more appropriate, with it highly targeted towards things that are directly related to the coronavirus, which we all know is not going away until we get a vaccine.”

Shortly after McConnell spoke, Pelosi addressed reporters at the Capitol where she was asked whether the notion of a smaller relief package appealed to her.

“No, no, it doesn’t appeal to me at all because they still have not agreed to crush the virus,” Pelosi said.

“That isn’t anything that we should even be looking at, it wasn’t the right thing to do before,” she added.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been negotiating for months on a bill with a price tag around $2 trillion. Those talks finally broke down for good last week.

Senate Republicans never supported such robust spending, with McConnell instead trying to advance legislation closer to $500 billion, which Senate Democrats blocked.

Heading into the lame duck, there is little sign that the Pelosi-Mnuchin talks will resume. Instead, the administration is indicating that it will let McConnell take the lead in any new negotiations with Pelosi, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it.

But with McConnell and Pelosi so far apart at the outset, it’s unclear where compromise might lie — and highly uncertain what Trump might be willing to sign on his way out of office. The negotiations might hinge in part on a Dec. 11 deadline when government funding runs out and a new spending bill will have to pass to avert a government shutdown.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Nov. 6 called on Republicans to come back to the bargaining table for a new coronavirus relief bill. (Video: The Washington Post)

“We want the Republicans to come back to the table. … The imperative to act could not be greater,” Pelosi said.

McConnell said earlier this week that he could support some state and local aid as part of a new relief package, an apparent concession to Democrats who have made that a central demand.

Economists including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell have continued to urge Congress to pass new relief. Congress has not acted since spring, when lawmakers moved quickly to inject $3 trillion into the economy, sending help to unemployed Americans, small businesses and others. But many of those programs have now expired, and there are signs the economy is slowing.

“I think we’ll have a stronger recovery if we can just get at least some more fiscal support,” Powell said on Thursday.

If no agreement is reached in the lame duck, it will fall to the new president — likely Biden — to negotiate an aid package as his first order of business after taking office in late January.

Jeff Stein and Heather Long contributed to this report.