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Moderate Democrats Pressure Pelosi On Unemployment, Coronavirus Relief

WASHINGTON — A group of roughly two dozen Democrats is pressuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to take the GOP coronavirus stimulus offer, even if it’s far short of current Democratic proposals.

Some of the members have taken to sending Pelosi a form text, asking her to not send members home before the House has passed a bipartisan deal.

“Madame Speaker: With respect, we must meet the moment and cannot leave Washington without passing a BIPARTISAN covid relief bill. Thank you for your understanding and leadership,” the form text reads. 

Members seem to prefer Pelosi taking the $1.6 trillion offer that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin proposed over no deal at all, though one member involved in the campaign said lawmakers weren’t necessarily insisting that Pelosi take the current GOP offer — just that she not send members home without reaching an agreement.

“We need a bipartisan deal that can actually be signed into law and get money into the hands of people who need it right now,” Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) said Thursday night, adding that the Democratic bill the House passed Thursday night wouldn’t get to the president’s desk. 

The moderate push comes at a high-stakes moment, with the economic recovery from springtime coronavirus lockdowns possibly losing steam and a presidential election just a month away. Republicans could lose control of both the Senate and the White House and would likely benefit electorally from a stronger economy, but all of a sudden, they’ve soured on extra spending. 

Pelosi and Mnuchin have been going back and forth over the last few days on a potential coronavirus stimulus. But talks don’t seem to be bringing the two sides much closer. While Pelosi delayed a vote Wednesday on a scaled-down coronavirus relief bill, she quickly rescheduled the vote for Thursday evening after it was clear Mnuchin and the Trump administration wouldn’t be coming up significantly from their $1.6 trillion offer.

But some lawmakers seem to believe the current offer is good enough, or that it’s at least preferable to nothing. Mnuchin’s proposal includes many of the top priorities of the Democratic bill, but with less money behind them. 

Democrats want to extend through January the extra $600 unemployment benefit that Congress allowed to lapse in July. Mnuchin’s offer would set the benefit at $400 ― more than Republicans have previously offered, but not enough for Pelosi. 

“The reality is this: We can take their deal and save the jobs of thousands of airline workers in my district, or they get laid off,” Lamb said. “We can get $400 for unemployed workers and another round of stimulus checks, or nothing. We can get some funding for state and local governments, or none.”

Four hundred dollars would still be more than Congress has ever added to state-funded benefits in the history of unemployment insurance. In the midst of the Great Recession, lawmakers boosted state benefits by just $25. 

There’s probably no other policy more effective for alleviating material suffering and stimulating the economy, since jobless workers spend the benefits quickly on necessities like food and shelter. Losing the extra benefits significantly affected Americans’ disposable income in August. 

Democrats and Republicans have been deadlocked over a number of other issues, including state and local aid, liability protections for businesses that reopen during the pandemic, and education funding.

And Pelosi has asked Mnuchin to clarify a few different sticking points, though the two sides seem much further apart than just a few sticking points. But moderates are hoping Pelosi will take their message to heart and continue negotiating.

Lamb said that Democrats really do care about helping workers. “That’s why we should take the money that’s on the table so we can save jobs and help people survive this pandemic right now,” he said.

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