“We expect to be here as long as it takes to get something done on behalf of the American people,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, caucus chairman confirmed. That’s probably not what all of the worried swing state Democrats wanted to hear, but they’ve been clamoring for Pelosi to do something. The something they came up with was a further pared-down bill, a $1.52 trillion “bipartisan” compromise. That comes from the “Problem Solvers Caucus,” who were preempted in releasing their plan by Pelosi’s announcement that the House isn’t leaving until this is done. Their plan has $450/week for supplemental unemployment insurance for another 8 weeks, the official House line is it stays at $600. It also includes another round of direct stimulus checks of $1,200 and $500 per child. Pelosi rejected that on the call Tuesday, not wanting to pare her compromise offer of $2.4 trillion, where talks with the White House left off, down any further. “A skinny deal is not a deal,” Pelosi said on the call. “It is a Republican bill.” She didn’t directly address the Problem Solvers bill on the call, beyond that.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on CNBC and said he’s ready to start talking again, “I’ve told the Speaker I am available anytime to negotiation, no conditions.” Mnuchin seems to be the one member of the Trump administration who recognizes the economic peril the nation is in because of the pandemic. He, Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer negotiated the previous CARES Act, leaving McConnell out. We could be seeing a replay of what happened back in March with that vote—McConnell refusing to participate, wasting time by putting a purely political bill that he knew wasn’t going to pass on the floor, and then being bypassed by the White House and Democrats and forced to bring the CARES Act up for a vote. That could be repeated now, depending on how panicky McConnell’s vulnerable Republicans are feeling.
He’s had his poison-pill vote, which failed as he intended. Right now, the Senate is scheduled to leave on October 8. Senators can’t be immune from the worry that they can’t go home to campaign in the last few weeks without having acted.
There’s another factor at work here in the White House—chief of staff Mark Meadows, who derailed the last effort at real negotiation this summer. His intransigence blew up those negotiations, giving Trump the opportunity to try to look presidential by stepping in with his executive actions. Those have all been proven woefully inadequate—very little relief is getting to the people who need it and it’s not helping Trump’s reelection prospects. Mnuchin might just be able to convince him this time around that something has to be done legislatively, and the White House behind a bill would mean McConnell would also have to come around.
It’s a lot of ifs, quite frankly, and a gamble on Pelosi’s part to put it all on these potentially resumed talks. It’s some kind of action, anyway, even if having votes every day on the parts of the HEROES Act that are intended to help people would have been a more obvious demonstration that someone in power gives a damn.