WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will vote on a bill Friday to provide economic relief to communities affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but remained mum on whether the legislation was backed by the White House.
“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing,” Pelosi said Friday outside the speaker’s balcony on Capitol Hill.
Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been negotiating in recent days on a relief package, which was unveiled Wednesday night.
The speaker did not indicate Friday whether any agreement with the White House had been reached, but referred to the imperative of “working together” to confront the pandemic.
“Our nation, our great nation, has faced crises before. And every time, thanks to the courage and optimism, patriotism and perseverance of the American people, we have prevailed,” she said. “Now, working together we will once again prevail, and we will come out stronger than before.”
Pelosi said that the legislation would facilitate free coronavirus testing, including for the uninsured. The measure would also include two weeks of paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave. To assist people who lose their jobs amid the outbreak, Pelosi said the bill would strengthen unemployment insurance and boost food security initiatives like food stamps.
Pelosi spoke to Mnuchin only about 20 minutes before delivering the brief update on the status of the package, according to her deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill, who tweeted updates about their phone conversations all morning. Democrats had intended to bring the measure to a vote Thursday, but negotiations fell through.
Ahead of Pelosi’s remarks, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sent a letter to all House Democrats acknowledging that the last 48 hours have been “frustrating.” He said that the House will vote on a bipartisan agreement if one is struck. If not, he said, the House would proceed with a vote on the bill prepared by Democrats, who control the chamber.
“I know all of us are committed to doing whatever is necessary to protect both the physical and economic well-being of the American people,” he said in a statement.
Mnuchin told CNBC on Friday morning that “negotiations are going very well,” adding that the talks on the bill are “a bipartisan effort.” He noted that he had spoken to President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leadership several times during the negotiation process.
“I think we are very close to getting this done,” he said.
However, House Republicans are not on board with the legislation, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on a conference call with all House Republicans. McCarthy did acknowledge that there are things Republicans like in the bill but can’t get behind it yet. Negotiations have not stopped, however, Republican and Democratic sources told NBC News.
Two issues that came up during the talks related to paid family leave and paid sick leave, as well as abortion. On paid leave, Republicans expressed concern that the legislation would create new, permanent requirements for businesses that would last beyond the current crisis, three sources familiar with the negotiations said.
On abortion, the White House was concerned that provisions in the Pelosi bill related to the Violence Against Women Act could open the door to federal funds for abortion, sources familiar with the contours of the negotiation said. Republicans wanted to add Hyde Amendment language to the bill — restricting the use of federal funds for abortion. Pelosi has long been an opponent of the amendment.
Despite both parties haggling in the House, the Senate is on a three-day weekend. This has put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., from Senate Democrats to end the recess to pass the legislation introduced in the House.
“It’s pretty basic: when our country faces a serious crisis, the federal government has a duty to act,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said in a statement. “We must vote on it without delay.”