WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin reached a deal Friday on an economic stimulus package to address the coronavirus, providing paid sick leave for workers and pumping billions of dollars to states for food programs and unemployment benefits.
Hours after President Donald Trump trashed the tentative deal at an afternoon news conference, Pelosi announced an agreement.
“We are proud to have reached an agreement with the administration to resolve outstanding challenges, and now will soon pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues late Friday.
The administration’s support will likely bring with it support from House Republicans and more importantly, the GOP-controlled Senate. Approval by the House is expected later Friday.
Lawmakers hope the package will quell financial markets. But it is also designed to meet the rapidly changing social needs of the country. With schools closed in many states, children who rely on school lunches will need to be fed with funding from the legislation; with sports arenas and other institutions closing, workers may crowd unemployment lines.
It would also dramatically expand access to free coronavirus testing. Insurance companies would be required to cover it without a copay for consumers and a federal national disaster program would reimburse the cost for people without insurance.
“The three most important parts of this bill are testing, testing, testing. This legislation facilitates free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured,” Pelosi said Friday in an address delivered from the Speaker’s Balcony Hallway. It is a location the speaker reserves for the high-profile announcements, complete with hanging American flags, conveying a sense of seriousness.
Pelosi, D-Calif., hammered out the deal with Mnuchin, a member of Trump’s Cabinet, in two dozen phone calls over the last two days, according to a Pelosi spokesman. They spoke twice during Trump’s news conference alone.
Negotiations got tense Friday. Trump’s critical comments at his afternoon news conference nearly scuttled hope for GOP support.
“We just don’t think the Democrats are giving enough,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. “We thought we had something, but all the sudden they didn’t agree to certain things they had agreed to.”
But he left the door open slightly, saying “we could have something.” Trump didn’t specify what parts of the bill concerned him.
Democrats had warned they would not wait around much longer for a bipartisan agreement. “If we reach agreement, we’ll vote on it,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told Democrats. “If not, we will vote today on our bill, which incorporates nearly all of what the administration and Republicans have requested.”
Republicans in Congress were looking to the White House before deciding whether to support it. GOP lawmakers have often been skittish about voting on legislation before Trump has publicly weighed in. In 2018, the White House indicated that Trump would support a bill to avert a government shutdown, but Trump reversed his position after the Senate had voted, leading to the longest partial shutdown in American history.
The bill would mark the second coronavirus response package approved by Congress and is unlikely to be the last.
“We’ve resolved most of our differences, and those we haven’t, we’ll continue the conversation because there will obviously be other bills,” Pelosi said late Thursday.
The bill is expected to provide Social Security Administration funding for workers who don’t currently receive sick pay and need to stay home because they have the disease or need to care for someone who does. People would be eligible to receive benefits amounting to two-thirds of their monthly earnings, up to $4,000, for up to three months.
Democrats originally proposed a permanent mandate that employers provide paid leave for all sick workers nationwide, plus the additional temporary measure to address the current need to allow sick workers to stay home. Republicans said the ideas were too broad, long-lasting and would take too long to implement, advocating for a narrower approach. The permanent program does not appear to be in the final agreement.
A proposal from Trump to cut payroll taxes was not included, as both parties in Congress have panned it.
The deal would mark the second time Pelosi and Mnuchin have successfully negotiated a bipartisan agreement.
Pelosi and Mnuchin crafted a budget deal together last year. During the process of crafting that bill — which raised caps on spending and lifted the federal debt ceiling — Pelosi and Mnuchin built a mutual trust and respect. Mnuchin is a relatively apolitical member of Trump’s Cabinet with a laser-like focus on the economy. Pelosi is a longtime legislator well practiced in crafting political deals.