'More work needs to be done': Pelosi, Mnuchin set more coronavirus stimulus talks as time runs short

Key Points
  • Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin spoke about coronavirus stimulus and moved closer to being able to write a bill, Pelosi's office said.
  • The pair plans to talk again Thursday as they run out of time to reach a relief deal before the 2020 election.
  • Pelosi signaled Wednesday that the sides may not strike an agreement until after the election.
Nancy Pelosi and Steven Mnuchin

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin worked to resolve outstanding differences over coronavirus stimulus again Wednesday as they run out of time to reach a deal before the 2020 election.

In a 48-minute phone call, the negotiators moved "closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation" and left "better prepared to reach compromise on several priorities," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a tweeted statement. The pair will talk again Thursday.

"Differences continue to be narrowed on health priorities, including language providing a national strategic testing and contract tracing plan, but more work needs to be done to ensure that schools are the safest places in America for children to learn," Hammill said.

The latest on stimulus
The latest on stimulus

Ahead of the conversation Wednesday, Pelosi told MSNBC that the sides "have a prospect for an agreement." While the California Democrat said she is hopeful about a deal, she signaled Democrats and Republicans may not reach an accord until after Election Day.

"I'm optimistic that there will be a bill," Pelosi said. "It's a question of, is it in time to pay the November rent, which is my goal, or is it going to be shortly thereafter and retroactive?"

The phone call followed Senate Republicans' unsuccessful Wednesday attempt to pass a more narrow $500 billion relief bill over unified Democratic opposition. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cautioned the White House against agreeing to a comprehensive deal before the election because legislation that could cost $2 trillion or more would divide his caucus ahead of the election, NBC News reported.

Vulnerable GOP senators also worry about returning home to campaign after the chamber's expected vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Monday, according to NBC.

If Pelosi and Mnuchin reach a deal, they will have to try to win support from Senate Republicans resistant to much more federal spending on the virus response. Asked Wednesday how many GOP votes a potential deal could get, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters "it would be hard to tell you" until the negotiators have actually clinched an agreement.

White House, Congress remain locked in negotiations on coronavirus stimulus — Here's the latest
White House, Congress remain locked in negotiations on coronavirus stimulus — Here's the latest

Of course, approving a bill in the so-called lame-duck period between the election and when winners take office in January could pose its own challenges.

As officials in Washington struggle to find common ground, millions of Americans thrown out of work by the pandemic try to scrape together enough money to eat and stay in their homes. The U.S. had an unemployment rate of about 8% in September, weeks after a $600 per week supplemental unemployment benefit, a federal moratorium on evictions and the Paycheck Protection Program small business loan initiative expired.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and many economists have warned of potentially devastating effects if Congress waits too long to send more relief.

Negotiators have in recent days said they made progress on resolving a dispute over a national Covid-19 testing strategy. But they still have not figured out how to get past two of the biggest obstacles present during months of discussions: state and local government aid and liability protections for businesses.

Pelosi has insisted on more relief for cash-crunched states and municipalities, over the objections of President Donald Trump and McConnell. Meanwhile, the White House and McConnell have insisted on including legal immunity, which Democrats have resisted.

Trump started pressuring lawmakers to reach a deal late in the game, only after he temporarily ordered his administration to stop talking to Democrats about aid.

Subscribe to CNBC on YouTube.