House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called on the Trump administration to reconcile remaining disputes on coronavirus stimulus legislation within 48 hours as lawmakers attempt to pass a bill before the 2020 election.
Pelosi set the 48-hour deadline on negotiations after speaking with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday night for more than an hour. They agreed to speak again on Monday.
In an interview on ABC News on Sunday, Pelosi said the deadline has to do with lawmakers' ability to get a deal done before the Nov. 3 election, which is just over two weeks away. The speaker said she's optimistic about negotiations but that the outcome ultimately depends on the White House.
"The 48 only relates to if we want to get it done before the election, which we do," Pelosi said. "We're saying to them, we have to freeze the design on some of these things — are we going with it or not and what is the language? I'm optimistic, because again we've been back and forth on all this."
Stimulus talks have dragged on for months even as the coronavirus spreads across the U.S. and millions of Americans remain unemployed.
Pelosi, in a letter to House Democrats on Sunday, said Mnuchin had sent her the awaited language on coronavirus testing over the weekend, a long-standing point of contention in the negotiations. She said there was some "encouraging news," though "much work remains" on the issue.
Mnuchin said last week that the White House won't let differences over funding targets for testing derail stimulus talks. However, Pelosi accused the White House on Sunday of weakening the language on testing and tracing so much that the funding would create a slush fund for the administration.
"Instead of recognizing the need for a strategic plan, they have changed words including 'shall' to 'may,' 'requirement' to 'recommendation,' and 'strategic plan' to 'strategy,'" Pelosi wrote in the letter to House Democrats. "These changes make the funding a slush fund for the Administration which 'may' grant or withhold rather than a prescribed, funded plan to crush the virus."
Pelosi said the White House had removed 55% of the language in the Heroes Act on testing and tracing, despite administration promises to accept the Democratic language with a "light touch."
"Especially disappointing was the elimination of measures to address the virus's disproportionate and deadly impact on communities of color," the House speaker wrote. "The White House does not appreciate the need to direct resources to culturally competent contact tracing."
The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's inquiry regarding Pelosi's comments.
Democrats, who have passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill in the House, have dismissed the Trump administration's latest $1.8 trillion proposal as insufficient. The two sides also disagree on other major policy issues including funding for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses during the pandemic.
Even if Pelosi and Mnuchin are able to reach a bipartisan deal, many Senate Republicans have opposed spending close to $2 trillion on a package.
The Senate is set to vote on a limited $500 billion stimulus bill on Wednesday, which will include funding for schools, expanded unemployment benefits and a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program.
Read House Speaker Pelosi's full letter:
Dear Democratic Colleague,
On Friday, the number of coronavirus infections reached a staggering 69,000 cases, the highest daily number in months. As infections soar and deaths increase, we must urgently act to protect the lives and livelihoods of the American people.
Coronavirus relief negotiations proceeded over the weekend, with Secretary Mnuchin sending awaited language on testing. While there was some encouraging news, much work remains.
The White House had assured Democrats that they would accept our language on testing with a "light touch." Unfortunately, as the committees of jurisdiction review the White House's language provision-by-provision, it has become clear that these changes are not a light touch but instead, a deep dive.
These unacceptable changes include, but are not limited to, the White House's refusal to commit to a science-based national plan for testing, tracing, and treatment to crush the virus. The White House has removed 55 percent of the Heroes Act's language for testing, tracing, and treatment. Especially disappointing was the elimination of measures to address the virus's disproportionate and deadly impact on communities of color. The White House does not appreciate the need to direct resources to culturally competent contact tracing.
Instead of recognizing the need for a strategic plan, they have changed words including "shall" to "may," "requirement" to "recommendation," and "strategic plan" to "strategy." These changes make the funding a slush fund for the Administration which "may" grant or withhold rather than a prescribed, funded plan to crush the virus. It is important to note the impact in terms of the disparity facing communities of color: a Latino child is eight times more likely to have to go to the hospital because of COVID-19 than a white child, and a Black child is five times more likely. We want all of our children protected.
Children are further affected negatively in the White House's refusal to expand the Child Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Tax Credit, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, while continuing tax benefits for some of the wealthiest in America. This is especially disappointing in light of reports this weekend that poverty has grown by six million in the past three months as CARES benefits are exhausting, meaning that eight million Americans are now living in poverty. Our proposal would reduce childhood poverty significantly.
Children are also shortchanged by the refusal of the Administration to increase the child care provisions. If children are not able to go to school, parents are not able to go to work. Child care is therefore essential. At the same time, everyone wants children to be able to go back to school safely. This takes money, and the Republicans are still falling short on what is needed to provide the separation, ventilation, sanitation, and especially, funding for teachers and support staff to enable this to happen.
Funding for schools comes largely from state and local government, and the Administration continues to fail to meet the well-documented need for funds to protect frontline workers in health care, first responders, sanitation, transportation, food workers, teachers and others, and to prevent service cuts to struggling communities.
Sadly for our country, the Administration wants to undermine the Census, unless we can act legislatively. The Administration and the President's appointees to the Courts have decided in his favor to hold up the count in the Census. At the same time, the Administration refused to allow time for the count, once hopefully resumed, to be accurately reported to the Congress.
These are a few of the issues that were discussed this weekend, but they are not exhaustive of our concerns. We are hoping to find common ground.
I am optimistic that we can reach agreement before the election. To that end, we are writing language as we negotiate the priorities, so that we are fully prepared to move forward once we reach agreement.
Updates will be ongoing as our Chairs continue to review language for Liability and OSHA, small business, health care providers, and elections. Hopefully we will have more progress to report on our conference call tomorrow.
Thank you for your leadership. Stay safe.