House Democrats abruptly postponed a planned vote Wednesday evening on their latest $2.2-trillion stimulus plan, putting off action until Thursday to leave time for a last-ditch round of negotiations with the Trump administration to produce a deal.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier said that they had made progress in a 90-minute meeting in the speaker’s Capitol office on Wednesday and that they would continue their talks, keeping alive the possibility of a late-stage breakthrough. But Ms. Pelosi’s decision to schedule an evening vote on the Democratic bill — one which Republicans had made clear they could not support — suggested that a compromise remained unlikely.
Her retreat signaled that agreement might in fact still be possible. Two aides, insisting on anonymity to describe private deliberations, said Democratic leaders had decided to allow one more day for talks to bear fruit.
“We made a lot of progress over the last few days,” Mr. Mnuchin told reporters as he left the Capitol. “We still don’t have an agreement, but we have more work to do and we’re going to see where we end up.”
The Democrats’ latest bill shaves $1.2 trillion off their original $3.4 trillion measure, which was passed by the House in May. But the measure was all but guaranteed to die in the Republican-led Senate, with Republicans dismissing it as far too expensive.
“We’re very, very far apart,” declared Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.
But rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties have increasingly been agitating for another vote on a relief package before the elections, as the economic recovery shudders and tens of thousands of workers are either furloughed or laid off as a result of the pandemic.
Democratic leaders appeared disinclined to make many concessions.
Ms. Pelosi, in a private call earlier Wednesday, counseled Democrats that “we’re closer to the inauguration of Joe Biden right now, so we will have our moment,” according to two people familiar with her remarks who disclosed them on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Mnuchin, speaking on CNBC early Wednesday, said he was giving the talks “one more serious try.” He said he had prepared an offer of around $1.5 trillion, similar to a bipartisan framework a group of lawmakers presented earlier this month. Ms. Pelosi and her top lieutenants rejected that as inadequate.
The Treasury secretary said it would include liability protections for schools and businesses, more economic impact payments, support for airlines and relief money for emergency workers in states.
“More fiscal response will help the economy,” Mr. Mnuchin said.