Moderate swing-state Democrats in the House are increasing their pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to restart stalled stimulus talks with Republicans.
Members of the Blue Dog coalition, a group of 26 fiscally conservative Democrats, is asking Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to use a Saturday House vote on a U.S. Postal Service bill as an opportunity to restart negotiations.
“As the House prepares to vote this weekend on a bill to protect the United States Postal Service, we urge you to restart bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on a fifth COVID-19 relief package that is commensurate with the scale of this public health and economic crisis,” the group said in a letter to the leaders that will be sent as soon as Thursday and was obtained by Bloomberg News.
It urges a compromise, stating that “the reality is that only bipartisan solutions will deliver much-needed support, and that requires principled compromise by both parties.”
The effort comes on a day when the Labor Department reported that initial unemployment claims rose unexpectedly in the week ending Aug. 15 to more than 1.1 million, an increase of 135,000 from the week before. Economists are warning that without congressional action, the U.S. risks slipping into a prolonged recession.
Stimulus talks between Pelosi and Schumer and the White House stalled on Aug. 7 after Democrats offered to reduce their $3.5 trillion demand by $1 trillion and the White House refused to accept more than the roughly $1 trillion it had put on the table. President Donald Trump has since taken action to create a $300 per week benefit using disaster relief funds, but that may prove difficult to implement and is expected to run out in a matter of weeks.
McConnell on Thursday said the Republican position hasn’t changed and that talks remain at an impasse.
“We’re pretty far apart right now,” McConnell said at event in his home state of Kentucky. ”I’m hoping we can get past that, but I can’t predict today.”
The Blue Dog letter says the next stimulus deal should extend expired supplemental unemployment benefits, include a direct stimulus payment, increase oversight over spending, extend the expanded employee retention tax credit and include aid to state and local governments.
The letter does not explicitly insist on keeping the $600 per week level of unemployment benefits that Pelosi and other leaders have so far demanded, instead seeking them “at a level sufficient to enable beneficiaries to provide for their families and to support their local economies.” It also does not specify a dollar amount for state and local aid. Democrats have sought $915 billion in the talks and Republicans have offered $150 billion, with the difference constituting the biggest gap in the negotiations.
The letter was organized by Representatives Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Tom O’Halleran of Arizona, Lou Correa of California and Anthony Brindisi of New York.
Earlier this week, 117 members of the House Democratic caucus wrote to leadership seeking a vote this weekend on a bill extending the $600 per week benefit and linking its expiration to jobless rates. A senior Democratic aide said that a vote on the measure was not planned, however.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows this week called on Democrats to meet again over stimulus and the White House indicated it could be open to the $25 billion in Postal Service funding that Democrats have sought. There has been no indication of a willingness from Republicans to agree to the $2 trillion overall spending that Democrats are demanding, however.
— With assistance by Laura Litvan
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