House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled openness to an airline-relief bill in a call with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin after President Donald Trump pulled his negotiators from broader stimulus talks.
Pelosi’s receptiveness to stand-alone legislation for airlines doesn’t appear to include other elements of what was to have been a comprehensive relief package, however. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, she rejected pressure from Trump to green-light a bill authorizing $1,200 individual stimulus checks, saying that was insufficient to address the COVID-19 challenge.
With regard to carriers, Mnuchin “inquired about a standalone airlines bill” in a phone call with Pelosi Wednesday morning, her spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted. “The speaker reminded him that Republicans blocked that bill on Friday & asked him to review the DeFazio bill so that they could have an informed conversation.”
The two spoke again Wednesday evening for about 20 minutes about airline aid, and Hammill said they agreed to talk again on Thursday.
Mnuchin’s call underscores the Trump administration’s concern about the state of the airline industry, which has been walloped by the Covid-19 crisis and seen tens of thousands of job cuts. Help for the carriers had been part of the broader stimulus negotiations that Trump abruptly ended Tuesday.
An S&P 500 gauge of airline stocks rose 2.8% as of 12:21 p.m. in New York, paring an earlier gain of as much as 4.3%.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio on Friday attempted to pass an extension of expiring aid for airlines on the House floor by unanimous consent, but Republicans objected, saying they hadn’t been consulted.
Democratic leaders have generally opposed pursuing a series of stand-alone measures. That would erode any leverage to secure the level of spending they want for state and local government aid, food assistance, unemployment insurance and other priorities, Democrats say.
“We don’t have time to save the economy piece by piece. As Fed Chairman Powell told us, we need to act now and act big,” said House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth.
Federal Reserve officials led by Chairman Jerome Powell this week stepped up their calls for a broad relief package to help the unemployed and endangered businesses, highlighting concern about undermining the economic recovery.
During an appearance Wednesday on ABC’s “The View,” Pelosi didn’t explicitly shut the door on continuing negotiations with Trump and the administration, or potential measures focused on new stimulus checks, aid for airlines or other issues.
But she did disparage the idea of just sending stimulus checks without the other relief Democrats have been seeking. Trump in a late Tuesday tweet suggested the House should begin passing White House priorities such as the $1,200 checks per individual, unencumbered by Democratic priorities.
“Well it’s hard to see any clear sane path in anything that he is doing. But the fact is, is that he saw the political downside of his statement of walking away from the negotiations,” said Pelosi of Trump. “All he has ever wanted in negotiation was to send out a check with his name printed on it. Forget about the virus.”
Pelosi reiterated her opposition to the idea of some relief being better than no relief, when asked whether she ought to have done more to compromise with the White House.
“No, I don’t think so. I think it is a missed opportunity,” said Pelosi, noting that she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had lowered by $1.2 trillion the price-tag of their proposed stimulus package. “You should ask them why they don’t want to put food on the table, rent in the pockets of the American people, crush the virus, support our heroes, and the rest.”
The DeFazio legislation would provide more than $28 billion for airlines and contractors if they held off on layoffs until March 31, 2021.
U.S. carriers have furloughed about 38,000 people since Oct. 1, including major layoffs at American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. Those cuts followed the departure of 150,000 who left airlines voluntarily or accepted leave. Pelosi last week urged the airlines to postpone layoffs, promising that relief was imminent.
“We will either enact Chairman DeFazio’s bipartisan stand-alone legislation or achieve this as part of a comprehensive negotiated relief bill, extending for another six months the Payroll Support Program,” she said in a statement on Friday.
Republicans at the time said the DeFazio bill had been sprung on them without a budget score, and they pointed to an alternative bill sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker. That Republican bill funded aid for carriers using unspent stimulus money from earlier in the year earmarked for defense contractors and related businesses. A House companion version has 100 sponsors and co-sponsors, including dozens of Democrats.
Some GOP lawmakers on Wednesday pleaded with the White House to reconsider talks on a broader stimulus package, referring specifically to a proposal from the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the House. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican whose re-election race has narrowed in recent weeks, said it is “time to come together to help America deal with Covid as we move toward a vaccine.”
Problem Solvers co-chairman Tom Reed, a Republican from New York, told reporters that he asking his colleagues and the White House to not abandon a virus aid package that appeared to be coalescing around $1.7 trillion, which he said could get bipartisan support.
“We have been working the phones all night,” he said. “We are within inches of getting this done. Let’s not walk away.”
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