After a months-long stalemate on another bipartisan coronavirus stimulus relief bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emerged from last-ditch negotiations Wednesday with no semblance of a deal in sight.
But House Democratic leaders are still holding out hope for a bipartisan deal and delayed a planned vote on their $2.2 trillion stimulus bill to Thursday. House Democrats had initially planned to vote on the bill late Wednesday night but pushed it off to Thursday to give negotiators further room to talk, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with negotiations.
The Democratic pandemic relief bill -- largely symbolic -- is a slimmed-down version of the $3.4 trillion Heroes Act the chamber passed in May.
The bill is expected to clear the lower chamber but it's not expected to be taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate, which has scoffed at the high price tag.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that a path to a bipartisan pandemic relief deal is increasingly unlikely ahead of Election Day, saying Wednesday, "We are very, very far apart."
"We made a lot of progress over the last few days, we still don't have an agreement, but we have more work to do. And we're going to see where we end up," Mnuchin told reporters Wednesday.
Mnuchin has taken over as the lead negotiator in talks between the White House and Pelosi. The two sat down for a nearly 90-minute meeting on Wednesday in her Capitol Hill office -- their first in-person discussion since bipartisan talks collapsed in early August.
Mnuchin brought a counteroffer to Pelosi that resembled the framework that the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus put forward earlier this month, which carried a price tag of around $1.5 trillion.
Pelosi and several House committee leaders rejected that plan, arguing that it "falls short of what is needed to save lives and boost the economy."
"Today, Secretary Mnuchin and I had an extensive conversation and we found areas where we are seeking further clarification. Our conversations will continue," Pelosi said in a statement released by her office.
"We will be proceeding with our vote tonight on the updated Heroes Act in order to formalize our proffer to Republicans in the negotiations to address the health and economic catastrophe in our country," the statement said, but then hours later, Democrats reversed course and delayed that vote to Thursday.
Earlier in the day, Pelosi and Mnuchin both sounded more optimistic about the prospect of reaching an agreement amid a tanking economy and jobless numbers that continue to skyrocket.
Sources involved with the talks said the biggest hang ups include aid for local and state governments, as well as liability protections.
The bill the House is expected to pass would restore the $600 federal unemployment benefits that expired in July and would include another round of direct checks to Americans at $1,200 per taxpayer and $500 per dependent.
The bill would also extend the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses, a benefit which expired in early August.
The legislation also includes money for restaurants, airlines, childcare centers and performance venues hit hard by the pandemic, as well as funding for the Postal Service, which Democrats have said is needed before Election Day.
McConnell said Wednesday that the $2.2 trillion proposal from Democrats was "too high" and "outlandish," indicating that he has no intention of supporting it.
While the Senate is not expected to vote on the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, the chamber is expected to vote Wednesday on a continuing resolution that would fund the government through December 11.
Once the Senate clears the bill, it will be sent to the president's desk just hours ahead of a midnight shutdown deadline.