Coronavirus

Pelosi Sees ‘Momentum' Toward a Covid Stimulus Deal as Job Growth Slows

Tom Brenner | Reuters

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to reporters during her weekly news conference at the U.S.Capitol in Washington, U.S., December 4, 2020.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she sees "momentum" in coronavirus stimulus talks, and hopes to attach relief to a must-pass government funding bill.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer again called for aid after November data showed slowing U.S. job growth.
  • Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have renewed efforts to strike a relief deal before the end of the year.
  • Republicans have called for less spending than Democrats have, and the sides still need to resolve multiple disagreements in order to send more aid.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said "there is momentum" toward a coronavirus stimulus deal after new data Friday showed sluggish jobs growth in the face of an infection surge.

Nonfarm payrolls grew by 245,000 in November, falling significantly below expectations of 440,000. The sign of a flagging economic recovery comes amid a renewed congressional effort to pass a pandemic relief bill before the end of the year.

Pelosi spoke to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday for the first time in at least a month. The conversation boosted hopes about an agreement on Capitol Hill to lift an economy and health-care system damaged by the coronavirus.

The California Democrat said she and the Kentucky Republican agreed they want to attach aid measures to a must-pass government funding bill — if they can resolve outstanding issues with that legislation. Lawmakers need to approve a spending plan by Dec. 11 to prevent a government shutdown.

"The tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done," Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol.

Democratic leaders, who have for months called for a sweeping package to boost the U.S. economy and health-care system, cited the jobs report as new justification for Congress to act. Pelosi described the data as "further indicative of the need for us to crush the virus so the economy can get going."

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that "this latest jobs report shows the need for strong, urgent emergency relief is more important than ever."

"Senate Republicans are increasingly understanding this urgency, and Leader McConnell should hear their pleas as well as those of the millions of struggling American families," he said. "This jobs report is blaring warning that a double-dip recession is looming and must be a wakeup call for anyone who is standing in the way of true bipartisan emergency relief," he continued.

After his conversation with Pelosi on Thursday, McConnell told reporters the leaders are "both interested in getting an outcome, both on the omnibus and on a coronavirus package."

Democrats, who hold the House and can block legislation in the Senate, have backed a $908 billion bipartisan relief framework unveiled by members of both chambers as a basis for talks with McConnell. The leader of the GOP-controlled Senate wants to pass a more narrow $500 billion aid plan.

President-elect Joe Biden echoed the Democratic congressional leaders Friday after what he called a "grim" jobs report. The former vice president, who will spearhead the federal response to the pandemic when he takes office in January, said he was "encouraged" by the renewed push to pass a stimulus deal.

"Congress and President Trump must get a deal done for the American people," he said in a statement. "But any package passed in the lame duck session is not enough. It's just the start."

The sides still need to hammer out disagreements over issues including unemployment insurance, support for state and local governments, education funding, and liability protections for businesses.

Biden previously called the bipartisan framework a "good start." Pelosi said she agrees with his assessment. She noted that "it's not everything we want" and Democrats will likely push for more aid when Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

The bipartisan proposal includes $288 billion in Paycheck Protection Program small business loans, a $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and $160 billion for state and local governments that face cuts to essential services. It also puts money into Covid-19 vaccine distribution, education, transportation and rental assistance. Democrats previously pushed for a bill that costs at least $2.2 trillion, which would have reinstated an extra $600 per week in unemployment insurance and sent another $1,200 direct payment.

McConnell's bill, like the Democratic plan, would temporarily extend an expansion of unemployment insurance eligibility, authorize another round of small business loans and bolster the inoculation effort. However, it would not include an enhanced jobless benefit or state and local aid. It also would offer businesses a shield from Covid-19 lawsuits.

It is unclear how much the jobs report will affect the contents of a relief bill — or how quickly Congress can pass it. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third-ranking GOP member of the chamber, cited Friday's jobs report as a testament to the strength of his party's economic policies.

In a statement, he called for "targeted relief for families in Wyoming and across the country" centered around PPP loans and Covid-19 vaccine distribution funds.

"We don't have time to waste," Barrasso said.

About 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits after Christmas if Congress fails to extend provisions passed earlier this year. More than 20 million people are receiving some form of unemployment insurance as the economy struggles during the outbreak.

Protections from eviction and a federal student loan payment moratorium will expire at the end of the year.

The White House has generally downplayed the extent of the economic pain in recent months. Still, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow called for a targeted relief plan on Friday.

Speaking to CNBC, he said the discussions on Capitol Hill seem to be making progress.

"Talk is good, we may be moving forward," he said.

But he added, "I can't promise anything this morning."

Disclosure: Larry Kudlow is a former CNBC contributor

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