Pelosi Doubles Down on $2.2 Trillion Demand

Pelosi Doubles Down on $2.2 Trillion Demand

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Plus - Grim milestone for unemployment
Thursday, September 17, 2020
 

Pelosi Doubles Down on Demand for $2.2 Trillion in Coronavirus Relief

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated Thursday that Democrats will keep pressing for a coronavirus relief package of at least $2.2 trillion.

“It's hard to see how we can go any lower when you only have greater needs," she told reporters.

Pelosi’s comments come after President Trump on Wednesday urged Republicans to go for “much higher numbers” in a stimulus deal, including another round of direct payments to individual Americans. Trump also expressed some support for a $1.5 trillion package proposed this week by a bipartisan group of centrist House members called the Problem Solvers Caucus.  

“I’d like to see the larger number,” Trump said at a White House news conference Wednesday evening. “Yeah, I would like to see it. There are some things I disagree with, but I’m sure they can be negotiated.”

The Problem Solvers proposal was largely rejected on Capitol Hill, with Republicans saying it cost too much and Democratic leaders saying it didn’t go far enough. Still, after weeks of deadlock in negotiations, increasing pressure from rank-and-file Democrats combined with the new Problem Solvers plan and Trump’s comments had sparked some renewed optimism that a deal might still be possible before lawmakers depart for the November elections.

Pelosi said Democrats have shown they are open to compromise, dropping their demands by more than $1 trillion from a $3.4 trillion package passed by the House in May. "We asked them to go up $1 trillion, instead they went down, not recognizing the need," she said, adding, “Why can't we spend what it takes to shore up the middle class in our country?"

But White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Pelosi’s position is “an ultimatum,” not a negotiation. "Based on conversations with some Democrat House members yesterday, I'm not optimistic Speaker Pelosi is going to see this as an opportunity to actually have meaningful conversations,” Meadows told reporters Thursday, according to Roll Call.

The bottom line: Nothing much has really changed here. The two sides are still about $1 trillion apart.

Congress Still Doesn’t Have a Deal on Spending Bill

Congress has just two major items on its agenda before the November elections: That stalled coronavirus relief deal and a must-pass stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown after September. If the first was going nowhere, lawmakers at least seemed certain to take care of the second.  

That’s still probably true, as neither party wants a shutdown just before voters cast their ballots. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier this month that they had agreed to hash out a short-term funding bill. But the plan to pass a “clean” continuing resolution — one that simply extends funding at current levels, without too many additional provisions — is starting to get a bit messy.

Roll Call’s Jennifer Shutt reports:

“Despite the best efforts of top Capitol Hill and White House officials, drama is creeping back into negotiations over the stopgap spending bill needed to avert a partial government shutdown Oct. 1.

“There's no agreement on how long the continuing resolution will extend current funding levels, for starters, while tricky policy issues like upcoming redistricting-related census deadlines remain unresolved.

“What's more, there's even some talk among rank-and-file House Democrats about withholding their votes on the CR unless coronavirus relief provisions are attached, despite a White House-leadership deal to keep the two issues separate.”

Republicans reportedly want to temthe porary spending bill to last until mid-December, while Democrats want to push the next deadline to early next year. The negotiators have reportedly given themselves until Friday to reach a deal. "We hope we can reach a bipartisan, bicameral deal by tomorrow’s noon deadline," Evan Hollander, spokesman for House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) told Roll Call.

The House is expected to take up the spending bill next week.

Trump Admin Spending Millions on PR to ‘Inspire Hope’ on Covid: CDC Director

CDC Director Robert Redfield’s testimony before a Senate panel on Wednesday made headlines for his comments that face masks probably offer more protection against the coronavirus than a vaccine and that a vaccine won’t be widely available until the middle of next year — comments that President Trump later disputed in just the latest instance of the president rejecting the recommendations and basic facts provided by public health officials and publicly pressuring them on the proper pandemic response.

Redfield, we should note, later clarified his comment on Twitter: “I 100% believe in the importance of vaccines and the importance in particular of a #COVID19 vaccine. A COVID-19 vaccine is the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life,” he wrote. “The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”

But there was significantly more to Redfield’s testimony than his urging people to wear masks. As Roll Call’s Andrew Siddons reports, Redfield told the Senate panel that the CDC needs about $6 billion more to help states and cities build out their plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines once they’re ready. “The time is now for us to be able to get those resources out to the states, and we currently don’t have those resources,” he said.

Redfield also said that the Trump administration had directed his agency to transfer $300 million to the Department of Health and Human Services’ public affairs office.

Siddons details where the money is going:

“Of that amount, $250 million is reportedly being used for a public relations campaign ‘to defeat despair and inspire hope’ in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. Lawmakers view the ads as an attempt to cast the Trump
administration’s response to COVID-19 in a positive light. Redfield said that since the transfer was made, the CDC hasn’t been involved in the campaign and hasn’t been asked to weigh in with scientific expertise.

“The campaign prompted questions from subcommittee members about whether the administration is spending money in accordance with laws enacted by Congress — particularly if the money would have otherwise been spent more directly on the health response.”

Jobless Claims at Historic Highs for 26th Week in a Row

About 860,000 people filed initial jobless claims last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, and another 659,000 people filed for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which aids self-employed and gig workers.

The state results were slightly better than expected and the federal program total showed considerable improvement compared to last week, dropping by more than 200,000, but the numbers remain extraordinarily high by historic standards, even as they slowly improve. As former White House economist Aaron Sojourner wrote in a tweet: “This makes 26 consecutive weeks (a half year!) with every week's number of new state UI [unemployment insurance] claims higher than any of the prior 2,776 weeks on record back to 1967.”

Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at the consulting firm RSM, explained why the claims data continue to be so troubling: “The pace of firings in the U.S. economy remains well above anything observed during the Great Financial Crisis,” he wrote in a commentary, adding that the numbers are “a reflection of the deep scarring in the domestic labor market and economy.” (See his chart below.)

Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services, said the economy could take a long time to recover completely. “The labor market continues to heal from the viral recession, but unemployment remains extremely elevated and will remain a problem for at least a couple of years,” he said. “Initial claims have been roughly flat since early August, suggesting that the pace of improvement in layoffs is slowing.”

The stalemate in Washington over a new coronavirus stimulus package doesn’t bode well for the labor market in the coming months, according to Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays. “[I]f we’re not getting any additional benefits for households and replacement of lost wage and salary income, it does look like the pace of improvement is certainly going to slow,” Gapen told Bloomberg.

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